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20 cost of living savings tips

Mia Steiber avatar
Mia Steiber
- 13 min read
20 cost of living savings tips

Cost of living is the topic on everyone’s lips. With annual inflation at 5.1% (and not going down), the price of basic living expenses is approaching boiling point. Many Australians are finding it difficult to get by. Naturally, savings tips and cost-cutting hacks are everywhere. But not all of them are helpful.

I was rather perturbed by some articles I’ve seen recently on how to combat the cost of living and save money. Instead of practical advice, the guides featured tips including “try not to go to the grocery store, see how long you can last” or “stop getting hair cuts”.

These aren't realistic. Savings tips should show you how to get the things you need for less, not tell you to simply stop buying them.

With this in mind, here is a list of tips for saving that actually could help you live your day-to-day life with a sense of normalcy. I’m not going to tell you to stop your morning coffee, cancel your gym membership, eliminate Netflix or to stop your grooming appointments. These are the small luxuries that help us feel well inside and out. Don’t cut back your lifestyle, just pay less for it.

Energy

1. Use off-peak energy - it’s typically cheaper.

Energy bills are growing but you may be surprised to know that there are a number of ways to keep your bills down. Check your energy bill to see if you’re on a flat rate for all times of day, or if you’re on a peak/off-peak cycle. The latter may allow you to time your energy usage according to when it’s cheapest.

You don’t have to give up using your dishwasher, for example. But if you run it during off-peak times, you could be charged less for the same electricity. Most power providers will charge you different rates at different times of the day. It should all be listed on your energy bill.

Take your bill out and study it: write down or memorise when your cheapest periods are, then use these times to run your bigger appliances. The bigger the appliance, the more electricity it's likely to consume, which means whitegoods like washing machines, dryers, and dishwashers.

In theory, our appliances should be able to do this for us, alternating their power usage based on energy requirements. The idea of a smart grid and smart home appliances hasn't quite reached Australia just yet, so you'll need to take out your energy bill and look there.

2. Use energy efficient appliances

If you have older appliances, it’s likely they aren’t as energy efficient as they could be. This means that they’re probably using more power to function compared with a more efficient device.

When you are in the market for new appliances, consider researching the ones with the highest energy efficiency ratings. And if you’re looking to upgrade now, consider tools like Gumtree, Facebook Marketplace, and eBay to find secondhand options. It’s not uncommon for some people to sell brand new washing machines for dirt cheap when they’re moving out, saving you money on the initial purchase, plus on the electricity bill later on. Not only is buying second-hand cheaper, it’s also much more sustainable.

To check just how much power is coming out of the wall for your appliances, you can buy a $20 electricity measuring tool from your local hardware store that will tell you exactly how many kWh you could save. Knowledge is power.

3. Compare and switch

Comparison shopping is one of the easiest ways to save money, because it can show if you’re paying a higher rate for a product you could get cheaper with another provider.

The Government has a number of comparison tools that can help you find the best price for your situation. You might find that you’re paying more than you need to. Visit https://www.energymadeeasy.gov.au/ to find the best deal for you.

4. Ask for a discount

If you call your energy supplier and explain that you’re looking to switch, they will sometimes offer you a pay-on-time discount to incentivise you to stay. It's similar to suggesting to your bank that you're thinking of leaving and using a script to negotiate a more competitive offer.

Energy plan discounts can be anywhere from 5% to 25%, making it worthwhile taking the time to call.

Phone plans

5. Look at an MVNO to save on your mobile

Most of us know the regular big three telcos for our mobile plans, but there are other places to get your mobile access from. Rather than only looking at Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone, you may want to consider comparing a range of providers as well. After all, the phone and/or internet provider you’ve been with since you were 20 may not always be the one that gives you the best deal.

Every 12 to 24 months, it’s worthwhile looking at the current deals available. You may find you could reduce your bills by simply moving to a different provider. And these days, that is incredibly easy to do.

Many Mobile Virtual Network Operators (or MVNOs) often re-sell access to premium networks for cheap. For example, if you need Telstra coverage but don’t want to pay full freight, take a look at Boost Mobile, Mate, Woolworths, or Belong. You may miss out on a few premium features, so read the offers first before signing up.

6. Size up your download requirements

Thanks to work-from-home allowances,we're not all sitting on the train downloading movies and music anymore, so we're not churning through those massive download amounts we once had.

Most mobile plans in Australia are based on download limits, so if you know how much you churn through monthly, you can get a gauge on how much you really need to spend. Work that out, compare your phone plan options, and you can save some money pretty quickly.

Groceries

7. Frozen over fresh, it’s not just better for your wallet

Did you know that frozen vegetables often have a better nutrient profile than fresh? As our food ages, vitamins deplete. Snap frozen vegetables can actually be better for you than fresh ones that may have taken days or weeks to hit the supermarket shelves.

The reason for explaining this is that there is a certain stigma attached to buying frozen veg over fresh. But in addition to often being much cheaper, it is often much better for you.

8. Make it from scratch

This savings tip does require time investment, so it may not be for everyone. But you can save by making a few things from scratch here and there.

Save all your carrot peels, onion skins and bean tops and put them in a freezer bag. Once you have a full bag or scraps, you’ll be able to make a better vegetable stock than anything you could buy. If you like fancy bread, you’ll know that a good loaf of bakery sourdough can be upwards of $10. But making it yourself is much cheaper, and a fun weekend activity to do with kids.

9. Regrow your veggies

Don’t throw away your spring onion or leek roots. If you have a small pot of soil, pop the roots in and see how you have an entirely new batch of veggies in a couple of weeks. You can do this with lettuce and herbs too, but you will need to sit them in water first until they grow roots.

Shopping

10. Shop online to compare prices - and find the cheapest

For household goods, clothes and personal care products, online shopping is your friend. Use Google to compare prices on everything from sneakers to toothpaste and search for the cheapest one. You may even find wholesale deals that are unavailable in stores.

For example, the shampoo I use is $20 for 200ml at the supermarket, but it’s $20 for a whole litre if I opt to buy it wholesale on eBay.

This works for apparel and home decor too. I used this technique to buy a leather jacket for winter, typing the exact product name into Google and finding the same product at another store for $170 less. Save money where you can because it all adds up.

11. Use discount codes when checking out

Make sure you’re also searching for a discount code before you checkout. This is another easy Google search, with plenty of code websites available and for nearly anything.

One of the more popular websites, OzBargain, is a source of regular checks for any avid shopper, and a simple search for the product or brand you're looking for plus "discount code" could end up saving you dollars you didn't know you could. You never know what you might find.

12. Utilise subscriptions where it makes sense

For things like pet food, nappies, or laundry detergent, it could be worth signing up for a subscription.

Subscription deliveries often come with discount incentives. If there are certain items you have to buy each month regardless, subscribing will allow you to take advantage of the discount incentives. For example, some pet food sellers offer 15% or 20% discounts if you subscribe for repeat deliveries, and may even throw the delivery costs in for free. That's a saving right there.

13. Supermarkets are not always the cheapest option

Remember that supermarkets are third-party retailers for many products. This means that they put their own markup on products they don’t make in order to turn a profit.

So, in some instances, buying from direct-to-consumer brands could be cheaper because you’re not having to pay for the big chain mark-up.

As a personal example, I was paying about 60 cents per load for the sustainable washing powder I was buying at a supermarket. After some internet research, I found an equally sustainable, zero-waste laundry detergent brand called Dirt that is 28 cents per load.

This saving might seem small, but it means the cost of my laundry detergent has more than halved and I’m arguably getting a better product.

Petrol

14. If you are in the market for a new car…

If you are already in the market for a new car, consider getting an electric vehicle (EV). With the current price of petrol, the amount that you could save by avoiding the bowser is not insignificant. At the low end of the market, the more affordable EVs in Australia like the ZS from MG can be priced at around $45,000 new, while a used EV can be more affordable than that.

And if you can’t afford to go full-electric, consider a mild hybrid or plug-in hybrid which will reduce your overall fuel consumption as you drive. The less you spend on petrol, the better your finances are going to be.

15. Buy from the cheapest petrol station

The Government’s fuel prices app "FuelCheck" allows you to see where the most affordable price is in your area. It can help you get the most for your money. There’s also a great app called Petty for iPhone which pulls in this data and maps it easily for you on the go, while MotorMouth offers something similar across Android, iPhone, and the web.

Mortgage

16. Compare and refinance

Mortgages can be one of those things that you set and forget. But if you got your mortgage several years ago, chances are the landscape has changed.

There are now more players in the mortgage market, from new lenders to digital loans, this space is now highly competitive. And this is excellent news for consumers.

Banks, lenders and mortgage providers may offer new customer discounts, special rates, cashback offers and more to get your business. And in a market of rising rates, you could save yourself hundreds of dollars a month by switching to a better rate with a new provider.

Compare to see how much you could save.

Haircuts, facial and other small luxuries

17. Use coupon sites

You don’t have to stop getting your haircut, but you can pay less for it. Use coupon sites like Cudo and Groupon to find deals on massages, treatments, haircuts and more.

Since these are often new customer deals, you might have to travel a little further or go to a new salon that you’re not used to. You’re still getting your haircut, just paying less for it.

Insurance

18. Compare and switch

Much like other finance products, comparing is what will likely save you the most money. The insurance provider you went with last year is not always the best or cheapest for your financial situation today, and that's especially true if you can't remember the last time you checked your insurance premiums

A quick check of the car insurance market showed that the provider I was with was $300 more per year than another competitor for the same policy, so when it came time to renew, I made sure to switch.

Be sure you are regularly checking home and contents insurance, health insurance, comprehensive car insurance and your CTP for competing offers and better deals. Checking in and comparing once a year could save you thousands of dollars in the long run. Most state governements will have tools to help you here. NSW, for example has a handy CTP comparison tool.

Even asking your current insurer for a discount could help you save. Our insurer was willing to offer a discount of several hundred dollars if we paid annually rather than monthly, for example.

Investments

19. Minimise the amount you spend on brokerage fees

If you’re investing regularly, systems, brokers or apps with lower fees can save you upfront costs. Before you decide on where and how you invest, see who has the lowest fees. The less you spend on brokerage is more you can actually inject into your portfolio.

Travel

20. Get your flights for free with points

While travel is not on the cards for many Australians dealing with current cost of living, some may be contemplating a well-deserved holiday post-COVID restrictions. And one of the easiest ways to save on travel is to book flights using points.

In order to actually get the points, an easy place to start is by applying for a rewards credit card. Many of these offer large sums of points for simply getting the card and meeting the minimum spend requirements - which is easily done through a few weekly grocery store visits.

For example, you need 44,800 velocity points to get a one-way ticket from Sydney to Los Angeles. But you can often get 100,000 points just for signing up to the right rewards credit card.

Image source: Somi Jaiswal on Unsplash

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This article was reviewed by Personal Finance Editor Alex Ritchie before it was published as part of RateCity's Fact Check process.