It might not feel very spring-like at the moment thanks to the horrendous weather, but it's May finally – yay! – and I'm hoping for sunshine around the corner.
This is also the month where my car insurance is up for renewal, and every year I use that as reminder to spring clean my finances. One evening, I sit down and I go over all my household bills and I challenge myself to see by how much I can cut the annual cost. I know, I know, it's a rock and roll lifestyle I lead, but I figure that the more that I save on stuff I don't even realise I am using – hello waste water charges! – leaves me more cash to spend on treats or plump into my savings.
Last year, I managed to cut my annual household bills by £441. Here is how to you can do it too.
Start by signing up for a cashback website
Sign up for a cashback website and get paid when you sign up for new bill providers. Websites, such as Quidco.com and Topcashback.co.uk, list retailers that pay commission when shoppers click through to them. In turn, the website rebates some commission to the consumer.
And the cashback can soon add up with some providers paying as much as £140 to new customers. Since I signed up to Quidco back in 2008, I have made more than £1,600, so take it from me, it's definitely worth doing.
I explain how these sites work in this post from last year. It's free money, seriously. Sign up – and thank me later.
The only time comparing yourself to others is a good thing
My motto is normally: "Comparison is the thief of joy", but when it comes to your household bills, I make an exception.
Research shows that the psychological effect of knowing that others are paying less than you can spur you on to change your own spending habits.
And knowing what your neighbours are spending on insurance, energy and broadband bills could save you more than £500 a year according to Moneysupermarket.com.
Simply enter your postcode on the comparison website's home bill checker (www.moneysupermarket.com/home-bills-healthcheck/) to find typical prices local to you.
Get rid of unwanted payments
Two-fifths of us continue to pay for subscriptions we don't use worth £21 a month, according to research by Topcashback.co.uk.
Spring is a good time to take a fresh and thorough look at your bank statements, highlighting any direct debits leaving your account you're unaware of, or subscriptions you no longer require. This could be anything from gym memberships to magazine subscriptions. By cleaning up the unwanted subscriptions, no matter how small, you could save yourself money and see your funds looking much healthier as a result.
Haggle on home entertainment
Phone line rental, broadband and TV customers are often hit with price hikes, but that doesn't mean that you should pay over the odds for your home entertainment package.
Get a cheaper deal by haggling with your service provider. A survey from Moneysavingexpert.com found 87% of Sky customers who tried to haggle were successful in negotiating a better deal –sometimes shaving hundreds off their annual bills.
To get started, call your provider's retention department and tell them you are thinking of leaving. Do your research in advance and check competitor offers through a comparison website such as Moneysupermarket.com.
Use key negotiation phrases such as: "I'm paying too much for my current package", "a competitor offers a similar deal, but for less" or "I am leaving".
Choose your timing wisely and avoid peak periods, such as Mondays, lunch hours and weekends, as the operator may be busy with a long line of callers – and you might need extra time to make your case successfully.
Manage your mobile bill
Figures from Billmonitor.com show that more than three quarters of mobile phone customers are on the wrong tariff, with just a quarter of us using our free minutes and texts. As a result, we're shelling out more money than we ought too.
But the sheer number of tariffs, deals and one-off offers can make it difficult to find the cheapest plan, but you can use an internet service that compares prices from providers to simplify the process.
Billmonitor.com, for instance, will compare more than 2.5 million UK mobile phone deals, and show you the best contract for your mobile phone usage.
The site will run through every call, text and byte of data on your bill, working out the cost on each tariff. By considering details such as free minutes, off-peak calling and charge limits, it can identify the 12 tariffs that could save you the most money.
Smoke out the best energy deal
Shopping around and switching energy suppliers is one of the easiest way to cut household bills – but more than a third of us have never switched suppliers for any type of fuel – and are forking out hundreds of pounds more than necessary.
For an accurate comparison you will need details of your current suppliers, the name of the tariff and details of how much energy you consume – in kilowatt hours (kWh) or as a monthly or quarterly spend.
Before switching your tariff, check there is no cancellation fee. These are more common on fixed or online tariffs, and usually apply for a set period, but can be costly, sometimes £35 per fuel. Clear any outstanding bills with your existing provider, as you may not be able to switch if you are in arrears. Take a meter reading on the day of the switchover to ensure you are billed correctly.
As with the majority of online retailers, the cheapest energy deal is invariably on the internet. Many providers offer discounts for buying online as their overheads are greatly reduced.
People don't get paper bills in the post, and need to update their meter readings online.
Say no to insurance auto-renewals
While it may seem obvious, shopping around for insurance can save you a fortune. Never just accept the renewal quote you are offered as it is always worth getting quotes from rival insurers.
But keep in mind that the cheapest policy may not be the most appropriate as the level of cover will vary. Another easy way to reduce costs is to pay your premium upfront. Do not be tempted to pay for any type of insurance monthly because it appears to be cheaper or more manageable. It is not, as you will be charged interest, which can be as high as 24% a year.
Transfer your credit card balance
If you have hefty credit card debt, make sure you aren't forking out more money on interest than necessary.
For instance, figures from Moneynet.co.uk show that those with a credit card balance of £2,000 and who repay just the bare minimum amount each month, would take 22 years to clear the balance – paying an extra £2,275 in interest in doing so.
Avoid these charges altogether and move your debt to an interest-free credit card.
Before you make an application, check your eligibility with the soft-search tool from Moneysavingexpert.com.
A soft search lets you check what credit deals you're most eligible for without affecting your credit score. The search it leaves on your credit file can't be seen by lenders, so won't affect their decision. This can stop you applying for the wrong products and harming your credit record in the process.
Opt for the card with the lowest transfer fee for the period in which you are certain you can repay. Before getting a card with a fee, work out if you could clear the debt quicker to avoid it. If you're uncertain, play safe and go for a longer term – after all, a transfer fee is better than paying higher interest later.
But once the debt has been moved, don't get complacent, ensure that you then pay it off in full before the interest-free balance transfer period ends.