WITH household bills on the rise, there's never been a better time to get on top of your spending.
Home-made lunches, downsizing your second car and going solar are just some of the ways residents can save a quick buck.
Tweed financial planner Wendy Scarlett said even small savings add up.
"Making some small adjustments to you lifestyle can go a long way to improving your financial situation," Ms Scarlett said.
"Small differences, like saving up to $10 a day by taking your lunch to work can make a massive difference in the long run."
"With utility costs rising dramatically over recent years, it's important to make sure you're not wasting energy and water at home."
Michael Hall, regional general manager for Suncorp Bank on the Gold Coast, suggests paying your mortgage fortnightly and using debit rather than credit cards to get on top.
"Australians are working harder than ever to stretch their dollar further," Mr Hall said.
"Retail sales are down and retailers are in fierce competition for your discretionary dollar so shop around for the best deal from food to fashion and electrical goods to electricity."
Beyond Building Energy's national development manager Ian Reilly, who is based on the Gold Coast, said solar energy systems quickly pay for themselves.
"In Queensland if you put one of our basic packages on, it will cover itself in three years. In NSW it's about five years," Mr Reilly said.
He said most of the group's 12,000 installations had been in Northern NSW, the Gold Coast and Brisbane.
EnergyWatch website founder Ben Polis recommends updating your fridge, turning off the TV when you're not watching and waiting for a full load before washing.
TOP MONEY SAVING TIPS
Saving money on power bills could be as simple as looking up. Beyond Building Energy's Ian Reilly (pictured left) said solar power was one way to take control: "NSW has had a 60% increase in the past three years, with another 60% predicted over the next five years nationwide." Tweed Shire Council said with 30% of power bills going towards water heating, you can save by using less. "Taking shorter showers and cold washing your clothes are the obvious solutions," a council spokesperson said.
It may take a little more effort, but Ms Scarlett reckons you can save up to $2400 per year if you take your own lunch to work: "Try to prepare more meals and snacks at home, especially for school lunches." She also recommends cutting back on one coffee purchase a day or bringing your own from home.
Consider downsizing one of your cars if you have two family-sized cars. Ms Scarlett suggests this could halve the running costs of the second car. "This includes registration, insurance, servicing, repairs and petrol." Also look at fuel consumption when buying a new car. Many new models are super efficient.
If you're serious about power-saving, get a new fridge. Mr Polis said fridges over 10 years old can use two or three times more energy than newer models: "Replace and recycle your old refrigerator and purchase energy efficient models." Tweed Shire Council also recommends filling empty space in your fridge or freezer with water bottles. "More mass in the fridge reduces the amount of cold air escaping when you open the door," a council spokesperson said. Search and compare appliances at energyrating.gov.au.
Out of credit
Plastic is not always fantastic. While Ms Scarlett suggests credit cards are fine if paid off in full before interest is charged, Mr Hall recommends doing away with them: "Debit cards have all the convenience of credit cards, but allow you to access your own funds." Ms Scarlett suggests paying more than the minimum and paying off as fast as possible.
Keep your garden looking lush while saving pennies with home-grown fertiliser. Compost and worm farms produce rich chemical-free fertiliser and use up food scraps. Tweed Shire Council offers discounted compost bins and worm farms for residents. Call 02 6670 2694.
Not so hot
Essential Energy suggests setting the thermostat on your hot water system to deliver the lowest most acceptable temperature. "You may be surprised by what is still 'hot' and a few degrees here makes a difference cost-wise," a spokesman said. Also insulate your water pipes.
With many bank exit fees remaining high, there are simpler ways to improve your existing mortgage. Mr Hall suggests paying fortnightly instead of monthly and setting up an offset account. An offset account is where your everyday banking account is linked to your mortgage and calculated as if you had paid that amount off your loan.
Write a list before you hit the shops. Ms Scarlett says: "Plan weekly menus before shopping to avoid a fridge full of wilted vegetables at the end of the week. Avoid convenience shopping as this usually comes at a premium." Also, if you have monthly memberships or ongoing costs for services you are no longer using, such as the gym, Mr Hall says scrap them.
Be tech smart
Ms Scarlett advises saving on phone bills by bundling. Also, consider your usage: "Be smarter with how mobile phones are used. Is sending that text message when you're five minutes away from home really necessary?" Also, don't forget to turn your computer off instead of hibernating all day and turn the TV off more often. Mr Polis says a big screen TV on for six hours a day uses more power than a family fridge in a year. Search and compare appliances at energyrating.gov.au.
Dive into pools
Getting a carpool going in another way to save costs. Either line up a system with a workmate or link up with a travel pal on Northern Rivers Carpool. It's a free online service run by councils in the Northern Rivers. A Tweed Shire Council spokesperson said it helps save money and reduces your carbon footprint. Visit the website nrcarpool.org for more.
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