I bang on about how to save money on your household bills, but now there’s a website called Bean that makes it massively easier, and best of all, it’s free.
Seriously folks, cutting your household bills is a brilliant way to save money without depriving yourself.
I’m not talking about shivering in a corner eating gruel. If you pay less for your electricity – the lights still work, it’s just less expensive. Switch to cheaper car insurance – and you’re still covered, but your bank balance is bigger.
These small changes can add up to a big difference. Like, hundreds of pounds difference. Last year, when I did something extra each month to cut costs or earn more, it added up to a whopping £5,000 in money saving measures. (More in my post on “How I saved thousands in 2016“). Think what you could do with that kind of cash!
My number one first step to being frugal? Check your direct debits. Cancel the stuff you don’t use, and check you’re on the best deal for everything else.
Trouble is, checking direct debits and switching providers doesn’t sound like a bundle of laughs. We all know we should, but sometimes exhilarating items like “switch broadband provider” don’t reach the top of the to-do-list.
That’s why I was so excited to sign up for a new website called Bean. Bean helps save time, money and hassle dealing with your bills and subscriptions – and it doesn’t cost a penny!
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What is Bean?
Bean is a free website that displays all your direct debits and recurring payments in one place. You connect up your bank accounts and credit cards, and Bean scours your statements to create a list of all those cash-zapping regular payments. It then helps you track, cancel and switch payments.
Basically, if you find you’re paying for stuff you shouldn’t be – Bean can cancel it. If you’re paying too much for your bills – Bean can help you switch. It’s all designed to reduce your spending, without affecting your lifestyle.
Sounds good? Here’s where to sign up, or read on for more about what I think is good and not so good about Bean.
Copes with multiple different accounts…
For me, a major advantage of Bean is that it can cope with lots of different current accounts. In contrast, many financial tools only look at one. That’s not a great help when I have a tangled network of six (count ’em) current accounts, to earn extra interest on our cash savings.
Our main direct debits go out of our Santander 123 account, because it pays up to 3% cashback on household bills. However, many of the high-interest current accounts demand you set up at least two direct debits to qualify, so I have other direct debits dotted here, there and everywhere. Bean brings them all together on one page.
…and covers credit cards too
Even better, Bean spots recurring payments on your credit cards. As a fan of free money, I use a cashback credit card to pay wherever possible (klaxon alert: only do this if you can pay off your whole credit card bill every month). I therefore channel payments that don’t demand a direct debit through our credit card – like my newspaper subscription for work, and my husband’s software and iTunes payments.
Lists payments in one place
The Bean dashboard shows all your regular payments in one list, making it much easier to spot anything you don’t need. Think magazines you don’t read any more, the expensive gym you don’t use, trial subscriptions that spiralled upwards. Bean reckons 84% of consumers have subscriptions they weren’t aware they’d signed up for – that’s a huge waste of money.
Now I’ve already pared down our payments, keep a spending diary, and check our big bills every month or two. But even so, Bean’s list reminded me I’d signed up for a bargain £5 magazine subscription for Mollie Makes. It prompted me to cancel the subscription before it ratcheted up to full whack at £30 odd. Plus, checking Bean is a lot less hassle than updating my trusty spreadsheet.
Cancel without calling
Ever got stuck with a payment, because you couldn’t face unearthing the contact details, hanging around on hold and fessing up that you wanted to cancel? Bean solves all that. Click on any company, and you’ll see a red “cancel payment” button. Click to cancel, provide a bit more info about your account, and Bean will contact the supplier on your behalf – saving time and money! Maybe avoid cancelling essential bills like your Council Tax though, however tempting.
Spot unusual payments
If you click on individual companies, you’ll see a list of your transactions over the last year, your total spend, and a graph of your spend each month. I particularly like the graphs, because it’s easy to see any spikes, so you can investigate why something suddenly got more expensive.
The total spend also makes it clear how the odd £20 here or £30 there adds up over a year. £631 a year on water and sewage – I’m starting to think washing is over-rated…
Bean will also prompt you to save money by switching providers. Click through a “see if you can save” button or banner, and Bean will take you straight to a comparison website, making it easier to check if you can cut costs elsewhere. Bean will also email to suggest you try switching, if you’re coming up to a year with the same supplier.
I was impressed that Bean links to energyhelpline.com and broadbandchoices.co.uk. Both comparison websites have passed strict checks and got the thumbs up from relevant consumer watchdogs, so Broadbandchoices.co.uk is accredited by Ofcom and energyhelpline.com is accredited by Ofgem.
I spoke with Peter Myatt, co-founder and head honcho at Bean, to check it out. He used to work at uSwitch, so really knows his onions about comparison websites. Peter explained that Bean works with comparison sites that focus on getting customers a better deal, rather than those designed to maximise commission for the company.
Right now, Bean can help you save on gas, electricity, broadband and TV packages, and they’re intending to include insurance comparisons in future.
If you do click through to compare costs, make sure in the ‘Your Results – Would you like to refine your results?’ section you change the option to ‘No. Show me all generally available plans, including from these suppliers’.
This means you might see cheaper options, not just from companies that pay commission to the comparison site. I’d also recommend checking the customer service ratings as well as the price.
If you spot cheaper options, it’s also worth ringing your current provider to see if they’ll offer you a better deal to stick around. This worked well for me when I wanted to cut my broadband and homephone costs. Looking at Bean, I’m now paying 20% less than I did before, so it was definitely worth calling Plusnet.
Super easy to sign up
Seriously, you just have to put in an email address and password, and you’re away.
Click on a bank or building society, and you’ll get prompted to provide the relevant customer number, user name, password and memorable data. Bean does a quick review, and in a couple of minutes you’ll see the regular payments added to your list.
It inspired me to add extra accounts, rather than demanding a ton of tedious info right at the start. I had a spare 10 minutes just before leaving for the school run, and was able to sign up for Bean, add three accounts and marvel at where my money went. I added more when I got back home. Provided you have your internet banking details to hand, you can zip through the process really quickly – try it and see.
Handing over your internet banking details is a big deal, but I’m comfortable Bean has security locked down. Bean uses bank-level encryption and security measures. It’s registered with the Information Commissioner’s Office, the watchdog that protects your data privacy. It doesn’t actually hold your account log in details and passwords. All that info is zipped through to Yodlee, the world’s largest transaction data aggregation platform, used by big banks like HSBC. Bean just gets read-only access to your statements – so it can’t start whipping money out of your account. You can read more about its security policies here and here.
In practice, if you’re concerned you could always sign up for Bean, sort out your payments, then delete your account and change your banking passwords afterwards. This could still save you money, even if you don’t get the ongoing benefits of spotting unusual payments and prompts to save by switching.
What’s not so good
Can’t cope with multiple payments to the same company
My husband and I both have Sim-only deals with Virgin mobile, which go out on different days. Bean lumps these both together, as a single payment every fortnight, rather than two payments every month.
Added some payments I wasn’t expecting
When I first saw the “total monthly spend” at the top of my dashboard, I nearly had a heart attack it was so high.
Turned out Bean had picked up the standing orders each month that transfer money round in a circle to different current accounts, so I meet the minimum income payments to earn extra interest.
However, it’s really easy to remove anything you don’t want on your payments list – just click on the company, then click on “remove from list”. Peter from Bean explained they include standing orders because for example people have found they’re still paying a friend for a holiday they took two years ago.
Didn’t include some payments I was expecting
Some bills I expected didn’t show up on my dashboard, like my TV licence and donation to Shelter. I clicked on the ‘chat button’ to ask why, and the folks at Bean added them really quickly. Getting help was far easier than wading through loads of help sections and ‘contact us’ forms on normal banking websites.
I’d definitely recommend double-checking your list when you first set it up, but once you make any tweaks, you’re good to go.
Cuts out cashback
Bean makes its money by taking a cut if you switch or buy a product via Bean. That’s how it can offer the service for free. Thing is, you can sometimes earn some money yourself, if you click through a cashback website like TopCashback or Quidco to switch providers or compare prices. Switch via Bean, and you’ll miss out on that cashback.
Now I’m all in favour of anything that encourages people to switch to a better deal. If Bean makes it so easy you actually switch, you will save masses more than if you stick with the same expensive provider for years on end. Bean also swears blind that it is “completely unbiased and will always offer you the best deals regardless of fees”.
But if you’re willing to make the effort, you might earn a few quid extra switching via a cashback website instead.
Over to you
Overall, I reckon Bean is easy to use, free and could save you a substantial amount of money. I don’t recommend stuff on my blog that I don’t use myself, but I’m impressed with Bean and find it very helpful. If you’re keen to save money too, give it a whirl – you can sign up here.
Let me know how you get on – any payments you’d forgotten? Which bills surprised you they were so big? How much did you save? I’d love to hear!
This post has been supported by Bean, but all thoughts are my own
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