Are you eligible for a Winter Fuel Payment?
High fuel prices are one of the controversial topics of our times but look here to stay. No one, however, should have to suffer the cold through lack of funds to pay the bills.
With the Government's Winter Fuel Payment you could receive between £100 and £300 tax-free to help pay your heating bills.
Find out more about applying for the Winter Fuel Payments at Gov.uk. If you have an elderly relative without internet access they can claim by calling the Winter Fuel Payment Centre on 0800 731 0160. Lines are open Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm. They will need certain information to hand, such as NI number and bank details, so check Gov.UK for an up to date list of requirements.
Are you keeping your home warm enough?
Basic, inexpensive steps in cutting your fuel costs include increasing loft insulation, using foamy rolls of weather stripping on window and door frames, using expanding foam filler for small spaces, and putting up thicker curtains and blinds to prevent heat loss – and keeping them drawn unless there’s plenty of sun shining through that window.
Buy or make a draught excluder to block draughts coming under doors, and if you’re in an old draughty house consider a heavy curtain to hang over any draughty doors in winter. Large rooms without doors can have curtains temporarily hung using sprung curtain poles to section of chunks of room to keep the heat in.
To stop heat loss up an unused chimney, the removable Chimney Sheep draught excluder, from £16, is made with a thick layer of felted Herdwick wool and blocks 94% of air flow up a chimney, but still allows some ventilation. Research from the University of Liverpool found that it could reduce heating bills by around around £50 per chimney per year.
Are you eating the right food for winter?
On a cold day warming, hearty foods both comfort and sustain. Cheap slow cookers can be bought for £20-£30.
Visit our slow cooker recipe hub for more inspiration
Leftovers can easily be made into a casserole and all kinds of creative soups and stews rustled up with little effort. Cook large quantities and save time, money and effort by freezing the rest for an easy meal another day.
You might also be tempted to bulk buy to save some cash. It's a good idea to have a small stock of long-life items for times you are unexpectedly not able to make it to the shops but don't overdo it, and only buy products you know will last and that you will use. A few spare tins of tomatoes, pulses, soups and UHT milk are probably a good idea, if you've got the space for them, but do a regular audit of your store cupboard to check you aren't needlessly storing too much food you're never going to use.
If you've got a bit of a junk food habit then try to cut back, it's probably costing you more than you think and is not offering you great nutritional value. If you can't give it up altogether resolve to cut your intake by half one week, then half it again the second week.
Are you overspending on your winter wardrobe?
Charity shops are not the only place to update your winter wardrobe for little outlay. Street markets are worth checking but always check the quality of seams, zips and buttons. Major supermarkets often offer clothes at bargain prices, especially at the end of the season, or look for promotions or points offers linked to supermarket loyalty cards.
Also stores such as Matalan, Primark, Peacocks and TK Maxx can be good sources of inexpensive clothes. Try buying one item from an unfamiliar shop to start with, to see how well it washes.
Online, eBay is an alternative – and Amazon sells clothes too, often branded, at reasonable prices. Then, of course, there are other online fashion giants such as ASOS, with bargains galore.
For a more community oriented way of bagging a bargain look out for clothes swishes in your area. A clothes swish is an event where local people can bring their unwanted clothes and take home someone else’s unwanted clothes – as well as being great for sustainable fashion it’s a good way to meet people in your area.
The second hand market is also booming on local selling sites such as Facebook Marketplace, where you will often find people getting rid of bulk bags of clothes that no longer fit.
Don't overlook the 'second hand' items in your own wardrobe - fast fashion is fast becoming frowned upon due to its impact on the environment, and even A-listers have started rewearing their red carpet dresses to make a point. Have a rummage through the back of your wardrobe to find any old, overlooked gems - you never know what might have come back into fashion since it was last worn. Jazz up anything looking a bit tired with fun accessories, but chances are at this time of year a lot of what you wear will end up hidden by heavy coats.
How to soothe winter skin
Get (or stay) fit, cheaply
Local adult education centres offer a wide range of health and fitness-orientated courses. Older people may be entitled to a concession of 50% or more on the cost, and some courses may be free, so it’s always worth checking what you have locally.
Meanwhile community centres can be another source of free (or cheap) fitness. Check your local newspaper, library, Facebook groups, the internet and at the centres themselves. Leisure centres, too, offer a choice of activities. Concessions should be available for people aged 60 plus, those on benefits or people with a GP referral.
If the weather outside is awful and you can't face getting out for a jog or brisk walk, workout DVDs (Davina McCall's are accessible and sensible) and YouTube workouts are good alternatives.
If you have a gym membership already and are wondering whether it is good value for money or not start keeping a diary of all your visits in a month and how long you're spending there. Then you can work out how much each visit is costing you, and what the hourly rate is.
Save on entertainment
Dark evenings and long cold nights are the ideal excuse to get comfortable on the sofa and relax in front of the small screen. If you have a smart TV or a tablet, you don't need to be forking out for Netflix or Amazon Prime - instead catch up on TV you might have missed over the summer. The BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub and Channel 4's All4, all offer a huge range of free programmes and box sets on demand to keep you entertained.
Don’t overlook the obvious though – libraries are, as ever, a great source of free books and cheap DVD rentals. Online shops such as Amazon offer second-hand goods as well as new – real bargains can be had on books, DVDs and CDs. Charity shops are usually well stocked with DVDs, especially as people increasingly switch to streamed video services, and Poundland offers very cheap DVDs and even Blu-rays.
Switch off everything you aren’t using
It might sound obvious but a lot of people are still leaving appliances on when they aren’t using them, and in winter that’s particularly tempting because it’s cold and dark outside and we appreciate the warmth of a well-lit home buzzing with life. Still, it’s good to get into the habit of turning off the lights you aren’t using. Outdoors motion sensitive thermal lights, or lights that run on rechargeable batteries, are a good option. Motion sensitive hallway lights are also a good idea if you need to take nightly trips to the bathroom and usually leave a hallway light on.
Even leaving appliances on standby costs. The Energy Saving Trust estimates that the average household spends £45-£80 a year powering appliances on standby. Anything that doesn’t actually need to be on (such as fridges and freezers) can be turned off at the mains.
Likewise don’t heat rooms you aren’t using. Thermostats on the radiators saves you having to heat spare rooms and studies you might rarely use. Instead, keep them off (or on frost mode) and turn them on when you’re planning to use the room.
Don’t overspend on your hot drinks
It’s cold so that probably means you’re reaching for the hot drinks more often. It might be tempting to fill the kettle but it is estimated that three-quarters of British households overfill their kettles, wasting a total of £63m in unnecessary household bills each year. Ouch!
If you do overfill the kettle and end up with too much water just fill a Thermos flask or insulated lidded mug for later.
Limescale build up will also make your kettle take longer to boil so keep it clean. This will apply to your washing machine too.
Don't go mad at the sales
Black Friday, Cyber Monday, January sales that start in December - winter is a busy time for shopaholics! But do you really need more stuff? For example, research has found we own on average eight pairs of jeans each, so even if you see a pair at a great price ask yourself whether you really need them. Browsing is the enemy for anyone wanting to reduce their spending so keep a list of your must-haves and when the sales start look for those items only.
Have you checked whether you’re getting a good deal from your energy supplier? It’s important to not get too complacent, and winter is the perfect time to re-evaluate and shop around, and check your broadband and telephone provider at the same time.
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