How to cut costs on essentials

Everyday essentials are just that — an essential part of your day-to-day life — but there are ways to keep them to a minimum.

The cost of living rose 2.3 percent from June 2013 to June this year for the Australian working masses, according to The Australian Bureau of Statistics. Some of the main contributors were the essentials — furnishings, household equipment and services.

But what could you be doing to rein back on the costs of your essentials?

Be smart at the supermarket

Missing out on an overseas getaway or monthly trips to the movies is hardly desirable. However, by cutting down on everyday expenses, being able to enjoy these non-essentials could well be possible.

Set yourself cost-cutting goals — as you meet each financial goal, reward yourself with a trip to the movies, meal out or put some money into a high-interest savings account for an overseas trip.

For starters, consider your supermarket spending. While big-brand items are familiar, budget supermarket products are often of equal quality. You can slash how much you spend on canned food, pasta, rice, milk, instant coffee, breakfast cereal, toilet paper and muesli bars by buying off-brand products or items on special. 

By buying on-brand products — particularly when they’re not on special — you’re effectively throwing money in the compost heap by paying a premium for fancy marketing.

Turn the ignition on cheaper insurance

Insuring your vehicle, home and personal belongings is a necessity, but that doesn’t mean it won’t hurt your wallet.

You’d complete a home loan comparison to get the best mortgage deal, so make sure you do the same for your ongoing insurance payments. If you get cover for everything from a single provider, you may be able to get an automatic discount on the overall cost.

If you think you’re getting a mediocre deal with your current provider, call them and let them know you’re prepared to switch to another insurance firm. You might strike a lucky note and get offered a discount if you stay. Otherwise, make the move!

Be selective where you shop

Have you run out of shampoo? The local pharmacy might be closer than the supermarket, but you’ll pay a premium for the convenience. 

Meanwhile, you might plan to buy all your groceries at the supermarket, when your local fruit and vegetable shop offers a better deal on fresh produce. 

Check out your local butcher for meat deals, too.

Try and shop in bulk, but don’t hesitate to shop around, either!

Compare, compare, compare!

It’s the long-term essentials in our day to day lives, such as electricity, home loans and credit cards, that can have the biggest impact on our back pocket — so comparing lenders, companies and products could save you thousands.

Australia’s credit card debt that is currently accruing interest is over $33 billion, according to RBA data. And while home loan interest rates are at an all-time low, if you aren’t keeping your finger on the pulse you could be missing out on these record-low rates.

That’s why it’s important to go online, research which products and features will benefit you most, calculate your potential savings and then find a lender or company who can provide you with the greatest everyday savings. Then sit back and watch your essential costs drop.

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Learn more about credit cards

How to get a free credit card

There's no such thing as a free lunch. All credit cards come with associated costs when used to make purchases, even if it’s simply the cost of making repayments.

However, many lenders offer incentives for customers such as a $0 annual fee or 0 per cent interest on purchases during an introductory period. Additionally, paying off your balance in full during an interest-free period means you could only have to pay back the cost of purchases without interest. You could also be eligible for additional rewards such as cashback during that time, saving you more money.

Can a pensioner get a credit card?

It is possible to get a credit card as a pensioner. There are some factors to keep in mind, including:

  • Annual income. Look for credit cards with minimum annual income requirements you can meet. 
  • Annual fees. If high fees are a concern for you, opt for a card with a low or $0 annual fee. 
  • Interest rate. Make sure you won’t have any nasty surprises on your credit card bill. Compare cards with a low interest rates to minimise risk.

How to get money from a credit card

You can get money from a credit card, but generally it will cost you.

Withdrawing money from a credit card is called a cash advance, as it operates more as a loan than a simple cash withdrawal. Because it is a loan, you may be charged interest on your cash advance as soon as you make the withdrawal. Interest rates are also usually much higher for cash advances than standard credit card purchases.

In addition to the interest rate, you may also be charged a cash advance fee. This could be a flat rate, or a percentage of your total cash advance. If you are considering a cash advance, make sure to add up how much it will cost you before committing.

How does credit card interest work?

Generally, when we talk about credit card interest, we mean the purchase interest rate, which is the interest charged on purchases you make with your credit card.

If you don’t pay your full balance each month (or even if you pay the minimum amount), you are charged interest on all the outstanding transactions and the remaining balance. However, interest is also charged on cash advances, balance transfers, special rate offers and, in some cases, even the fees charged by the company.

The interest rate can vary, depending on the credit card. Some have an interest-free period, otherwise you start paying interest from the day you make a purchase or from the day your monthly statement is issued. So avoid interest by paying the full amount promptly.

How do you use a credit card?

Credit cards are a quick and convenient way to pay for items in store, online or over the phone. You can use a credit card as a cashless way to pay for goods or services, both locally and overseas. You can also use a credit card to make a cash advance, which gives you the flexibility to withdraw cash from your credit card account. Because a credit card uses the bank’s funds instead of your own, you will be charged interest on the money you spend – unless you pay off the entire debt within the interest-free period. If you pay the minimum monthly repayment, you will be charged interest. There are many different credit card options on the market, all offering different interest rates and reward options.

How to get rid of credit card debt

  1. Calculate your debt. Credit card calculators make it easy to determine the repayments required to chip away at your debt in the shortest timeframe possible for your budget.
  2. Repayment plans. Take some time to formulate a credit repayment plan. Consider increasing your income, scaling back your lifestyle or refinancing.
  3. Talk to your credit provider. If you’re still struggling with your debt, give your credit provider a call. You may be able to come to a new arrangement.

What happens if I have a bad credit score?

If you have a bad credit score, you might encounter two main problems. First, the lower your credit score, the more likely you are to be rejected when you apply for a loan or any other credit product. Second, if your application is accepted, the less likely you are to qualify for the lowest interest rates.

Why should I check my credit rating?

There are two reasons you should check your credit rating: so you have a better understanding of your financial position, and so you can take action (if necessary) to improve your credit rating.

Lenders use credit ratings or credit scores to assess loan applications. The higher your score, the more likely you are to get approved, and the more likely you are to be charged lower interest rates and lower fees. Conversely, the lower your credit score, the less likely you are to get approved, and the more likely you are to be charged higher interest rates and higher fees.

Why do different credit reporting bureaus use different scores?

The reason Equifax, Experian and Illion use different scores is because they are independent companies with their own different methodologies. As a result, a score of, say, 700 would mean different things at different credit reporting bureaus.

However, the one thing they have in common is that they divide their scores into five tiers. So if you receive a tier-two credit score from one bureau, you will probably receive a tier-two score from the others, as well.

Can I get a credit card on part-time/casual work?

Yes, as credit card providers look at your annual income amount as well as your occupation. Minimum income requirements tend to be between $30,000 – $40,000 for standard and rewards credit cards, however low income credit cards can have minimum income requirements as low as $15,000 per year.

How to get a credit card for the first time

A credit card can be a useful financial tool, provided you understand the risks and can meet repayment obligations.

If you’re a credit card first-timer, review your options. Think about what kind of credit card would suit your lifestyle, and compare providers by fees, perks and repayments.

Once you’ve selected a card, it’s time to apply. Credit card applications can generally be completed in store, online or over the phone.

When you apply for a credit card for the first time, you must meet age, residency and income requirements. As proof, you must also provide documentation such as bank account statements.

How do credit cards work?

Think of credit cards as a short-term loan where you use the bank’s money to buy something up front and then pay for it later. Unlike a debit card which uses your own money to pay, a credit card essentially borrows the bank’s money to fund the purchase. When you apply for a credit card, the bank assesses your income and assigns you a credit limit based on what you can afford to pay back. At the end of each billing cycle, which is usually monthly, the bank will send you a statement showing the minimum amount you have to pay back, including any interest payable on the balance.

What's the best credit card for rewards?

There is no one-size-fits-all best rewards credit card. It's best you research what type of rewards program you'd like, as well as the fees, interest rate and conditions associated with those types of cards before making a choice. 

Rewards credit cards can also come with high annual fees that may end up nullifying the rewards, so think how often you use the card to decide whether the benefits outweigh the extra cost for you. A card with a lower annual fee might require a lot of spending to get any useful rewards, while another card with a higher annual fee might need fewer purchases to get a reward. 

How many numbers are on a credit card?

The numbers on your credit card actually follow a universal standard which is used to identify specific functions. Each credit card has a different amount of numbers. Visa and Mastercard have 16, American Express has 15 and Diner’s Club has 14. 

The first number on a credit card always identifies what type of credit card it is. Visa cards start with a 4, whereas Mastercard starts with a 5 and American Express with a 3. The remainder of the digits represent the account number, including the last number which is used to verify that your credit card is actually valid. 

Credit cards also have additional verification numbers, which are mainly used when the card isn’t present for phone and online purchases. These are the three-digit numbers on the back of Visa and MasterCard or the four-digit numbers on the front of an American Express card.