While the cost of living crisis shows no sign of easing, vulnerable people are having to make considerable sacrifices to try and save money how and where they can. The Money Saving Expert (MSE) has assembled an extensive list of money saving techniques, and below, are some we feel SOFEA’s beneficiaries could implement during these unprecedented times.
Use electric blankets and hot water bottles
With so much focus being placed on people struggling to heat their homes, relatively little attention has been given to the techniques people can use to ‘heat the human’. While buying warm clothing is an obvious solution, less people consider items such as electric blankets, hot water bottles and electric gilets to ‘heat the human’. The advantage of these items is that no heat is lost through the individual’s home, typically through doors and windows.
There are a number of devices such as USB gloves, heated insoles, hot water bottles, reusable hand warmers, electric heating pads, electric footwarmers and electric blankets which are extremely cheap to run and are ideal for ‘heating the human’.
Visit a Repair Café
When appliances and electronics eventually break down, replacing them can be a serious financial burden. However, Repair Cafés can offer an almost-free solution to the problem. Repair Cafés can fix anything from clothes to toys, as well as computers and other electronic appliances. While this service is free, a donation towards the costs is still appreciated.
Underpaying minimum wage earners
The Low Pay Commission estimates that there could be as many as 500,000 minimum wage employees who are being underpaid, or having their wages stolen outright. If your employer requests that you turn up for work early, denies you breaks or forces you to work overtime, leave late, purchase your own uniform or PPE, or refuses to compensate you for unpaid working time, such as commuting or other travelling; then the company you work for could be underpaying you.
If you think that you’re having your earnings docked unfairly, check the Money Saving Expert’s National Minimum Wage Guide.
The tampon tax has ended, but many will still spend up to £100 a year on period products. To help alleviate the suffering caused by period poverty, Morrisons debuted its ‘package for Sandy’ initiative where customers could discreetly ask staff for free sanitary products. For those who may consistently struggle to afford tampons and pads, there are a number of other programmes people can access for either cheap or free products.
Follow Jack Monroe, aka the Bootstrap Cook, for recipes costed to the penny
Jack Monroe, perhaps better known as the Bootstrap Cook; is a food writer, journalist and anti-poverty activist, with a distinct focus on alleviating food insecurity. Monroe’s first book, ‘A Girl Called Jack’, was a collection of recipes designed to feed a family for less than £10 a week. Her blog, ‘Cooking on a Bootstrap’, soon grew in popularity as it offered a slew of information for those struggling to feed themselves and their families. Over time, Monroe has worked to bring more attention to the UK’s hunger crisis as an active campaigner for groups such as Unite, The Trussell Trust, the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) and Oxfam.
Use a Slow Cooker to make meals in batches
Slow Cookers are a popular, but also under-used, appliance that can cook a range of meals from stews, curries, soups, casseroles, yogurts and desserts. The ‘hands-off’ operation of a Slow Cooker makes for a welcome alternative to a conventional cooker as you can enjoy a hot meal that’s been cooking throughout the day.
By batch cooking your meals for the upcoming days or work week, and organising your ingredients accordingly, you can have a meal that’s cheaper and more energy efficient than a conventional oven. The longer cooking time not only makes the most of budget ingredients, but also makes cheaper cuts of meat extra tender. But if you’re looking to cut down (or cut out) your meat consumption, there’s plenty of vegan options as well. Slow Cookers are easy to use, and can be bought for as little as £15.
If you have one, use your microwave instead of the oven
Despite their convenience, microwaves get more than their fair share of criticism; but with the energy crisis showing no sign if letting up, using your microwave in place of the oven could help save consumers both money and energy. In side-by-side comparisons; microwaves cooked food faster and more cheaply, while using less energy in the process.
The reason for this is, is that as opposed to ovens which waste energy heating the food around them, instead of the food itself. Ovens also take time to pre-heat, whereas microwaves reach the cooking temperature desired almost instantaneously, so the food takes a shorter amount of time to cook. For these reasons, as well as many others, microwaves are almost always a more efficient than ovens.
Try some water saving gadgets to cut energy bills
While you can’t swap your water provider like other utilities, there’s still savings to be made. Having a water meter could be a viable option for a household that has more bedrooms than people, and the Consumer Council for Water has a free water meter calculator to help you find out how much you could save.
Thanks to Save Water Save Money, there’s a vast array of water saving gadgets available such as specially designed shower heads, tap inserts and garden hose nozzles to regulate water usage; best of all (subject to participating water companies), these devices are free.
If you’re still struggling to pay your water bill or claim benefits, the Money Saving Expert has further advice where you can gain access to a range of funds and schemes.
Healthy Start vouchers
If you’re at least 10 weeks pregnant, have a child under four or are receiving certain government benefits, you could qualify for Healthy Start vouchers. Healthy Start vouchers (known by Best Start in Scotland) can be used by families on low incomes to purchase items such as cows’ milk, formula milk, fruit, vegetables and other food. If you’re eligible, you can apply for Healthy Start vouchers via the NHS. Alternatively, the Money Saving Expert has some additional information on other maternity grants and pregnancy benefits.
If you’re on benefits and have a disabled child, the Family Fund can help
If you’re receiving benefits; your child is 17 or under, lives at home and is disabled, you could be entitled to help from the Family Fund. The Family Fund dispenses grants to help the lives of vulnerable children and their families a little easier. The grants can be used to purchase a broad range of items and activities from appliances, furniture, bedding, specialist toys and even holidays.
Discounted NHS prescriptions, including dental and eye care
NHS prescriptions cost a flat rate of £9.35, although depending on your circumstances, you could be exempt from this charge. Certain demographics are eligible for free prescriptions; such as under 16s, pensioners and those on low incomes. To check to see if you’re exempt from NHS fees, use the NHS England Tool; alternatively, the NHS’ Low Income Scheme (LIS) can provide further exemptions for those who may be struggling financially.
Save money with an NHS Prescription Prepayment Certificate
Most people who rely on one or more NHS prescriptions pay for them as needed, but you could save a significant amount of money by opting for an NHS Prescription Prepayment Certificate. This allows the patient to pay for their prescriptions every 3 months (£30.25), or every 12 months (£108.10); and each Certificate is viable for an unlimited number of prescriptions.
Head to your nearest Community Larder, Community Grocery Store or Community Fridge
As the cost of food continues to balloon with inflation; Community Larders, Community Grocery Stores and Community Fridges are becoming an increasingly popular alternative to supermarkets. The function of these Community initiatives is to take donations of surplus food, then sell it at a vastly reduced price through a membership scheme to those who can’t afford a conventional supermarket food shop.
SOFEA’s Community Larder is one such alternative to supermarkets. In exchange for charging its beneficiaries a £3.50 subscription fee, users can visit once a week and choose up to 14 food items worth between £12-£15.
A Community Grocery Store works in a similar manner. There are 16 Community Grocery Stores across the UK which sell food at marked-down prices. The £5 annual membership permits service users to access its stores twice a week to do their food shop.
Some towns and cities will have a Community Shop, which were originally set up to assist certain professions, especially those working in the emergency services. However, these shops have opened their doors to pensioners and people claiming specific benefits; with the goal of having well-known brands remain in reach of overstretched budgets.
Community Fridges are also becoming a popular alternative to the conventional weekly food shop; and with as many 250 of them operating across the UK, allowing vulnerable people access to food they otherwise might not have. Community Fridges have grown in popularity the last 18 month or so, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, and are typically stocked by donations of yellow-stickered food from supermarkets as well as donations from individuals. Opening times vary from one Community Fridge to the next, but often they operate two days week for approximately an hour and allow beneficiaries to choose up to five items of food for free.
Foodbanks aren’t a mark of shame, they’re a fact of life
Over the past few years, foodbanks have become an increasingly common sight in UK life. It’s completely understandable when people don’t want to go to foodbank, even if they urgently need to; as vulnerable individuals will often want to support themselves, rather than ask for help. Last year alone, 2.5 million food parcels were distributed, and that number is set to increase this year.
Foodbanks are means tested; so you’ll be referred to one if a third party group thinks it’s appropriate. This third party could be your GP, health visitor, school or a social worker. If you need access to a foodbank, but aren’t sure who would refer you to one, contact Citizens Advice for the steps you need to take to get an emergency food parcel, which should contain three days’ worth of in-date, non-perishable food.
The Trussell Trust is the largest foodbank charity in the UK, operating approximately two thirds of the nations’ foodbanks and can help you find the foodbank that’s nearest to you.
Start Freecycling to find free furniture, clothing, food, toys and more
In the spirit of recycling, there’s an ever-growing number of free-to-join groups where members offer their unwanted items for free, known as Freecycling. Organisations such as Trash Nothing and Freegle aim to connect individuals wanting to get rid of items with people looking for those items in particular; all without any money changing hands. Trash Nothing, Freegle, as well as Freecycling in general, have enormous benefits for the environment, as well as providing people with much needed items during lingering economic woes. For more information both, the Money Saving Expert published a guide on how to get involved with these initiatives.
Find cheaper fuel with PetrolPrices.com
Along with the soaring costs of food and bills, petrol and diesel prices are also on a consistent rise. To counter this, websites like PetrolPrices.com, which is also available as an app; can help you find the cheapest fuel that nearest to you. Additionally, the RAC has 30 useful tips for saving fuel that motorists may not have considered, as well as its own Fuel Watch to monitor prices.
Get free one-on-one advice to manage your debt
At what point debt becomes a crisis depends on the individual involved. However, if you’re unable to pay all your outgoing bills, or you debts are exceeding your income; you may need some help and support in reorganising your finances.
The Money Saving Expert has a checklist to help see if your situation could warrant assistance from debt specialists. If you feel you do need help with managing your debt, there are a number of ways to get help with your debts from non-profit organisations. If feel you’ve reached the point where you could be in a debt spiral, there’s still help available. This includes the Money Saving Expert’s Mental Health and Debt Guide; which is intended for those have mental health problems caused by debt, or care for people who do, and is supported by Mind, Rethink and CAP UK.
Understand the difference between ‘Use By’ and ‘Best Before End’ on food packaging
Every year, around seven million tonnes of food is thrown away in the UK, and some will have been thrown away by mistake because of the confusion surrounding ‘Use By’ and ‘Best Before End’ labels on the packaging of food.
The Food Standards Agency guidelines helps consumers to tell the difference between the two labels. Essentially, Use By dates are about safety; you can eat food until and on the Use By date, but not after. Use By dates appear more frequently on food that’s more likely to spoil quickly, such as meat products and ready-to-eat salads.
Unlike Use By labels, Best Before End labels concern a food’s quality, rather than its safety. The food will be safe to eat after the date shown the packaging, but its flavour and texture may not be at its best. Best Before End labels feature on a wide range of frozen foods (peas, chips and ice cream), dried foods (pasta and rice) and canned foods (baked beans and canned tomatoes).
Making the most of your leftovers
While most people dread the weekly shop, few will look twice at what’s in their cupboards to see what meals could be made from their leftovers. Organisations like Super Cook and Big Oven can help you plan meals from what’s lying around in your cupboards. Simply enter the leftover ingredients you have into their website, and they’ll recommend a meal made from on those ingredients. Alternatively, the Money Saving Expert’s forum can offer advice on how to use up ingredients that would otherwise gather dust.
At Boots stores, ‘ask for Jesse’
If you’re struggling to afford everyday items for your children, you can visit a Boots store and speak to a member of staff and “ask for Jesse”, you’ll be discreetly given a free pack of dental products for children aged 3 to 5. Alternatively, you can donate products to The Hygiene Bank to support this good cause and help those in need.
National Energy Action: For help paying energy bills (or Home Energy Scotland).
Turn2us: Help with benefits, searching for grants and accessing support services.
Citizens Advice: Guidance for all aspects of Universal Credit.
Gingerbread: Primarily aimed at single parent families.