11 ways to save money right now if you live on your own
- Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto
Over the past few months, one of the top stories dominating the news cycle has been the ongoing cost of living crisis.
This April, millions of people will feel the pinch as utility prices in particular are set to skyrocket.
And while the news seems to heavily focus its attention on how this will affect families, what about single-person households?
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), there are around 7.9 million single-person households in the UK – meaning scores of people are going to be affected by the price hikes.
Myself included. I live alone, and had quite the shock when I received an email from my gas and electricity provider saying my monthly direct debit was going to go up from £40 a month to just over £100. That’s astronomical, and my usage hasn’t changed much compared to last year. If anything, it’s surely gone down as the person I shared my flat with has since moved out?
And while it’s understandable that bills go up annually due to inflation, it’s unreasonable to expect people to have an extra £60 a month laying around spare. Or in some cases, more.
In addition, council tax rates have gone up, and for me, it’s the biggest jump in price since I’ve been paying council tax.
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Further statistics from the ONS show that people who live alone, on average, are paying around £630 more in total for food, social activities, energy bills and housing.
“There’s no getting away from the fact that 2022 is going to be a much more expensive year for all of us,” says Resolver’s consumer and money expert Martyn James.
“Many of the people I’ve spoken to in the last few days are still reeling from the extraordinary 54% increase in the price cap for energy bills. And interest rates have gone up to 0.5%, the second rise in three months. This is because inflation has hit a 30-year high. What that means in real terms is prices are increasing faster than your pay packet.”
But there are a number of ways that singletons can help lessen the blow when it comes to the cost of living.
Council Tax discount
Firstly, if you haven’t already, apply for a single-person council tax discount, as this will slash 25% off your bill.
“You can also potentially spread your payments thinner, paying over 12 months rather than the usual 10,” adds Martyn.
“There’s also another £150 rebate off many people’s council tax bills. This should be automatic and show on your bill from this April. This is a one-off payment and isn’t a loan.”
Energy Bills Rebate
Secondly, there are a few different options that can help you when it comes to your energy bills, which looks to be the biggest worry for most people – myself included.
“With media coverage suggesting that prices could head towards £3,000 on average, many people are telling me they simply can’t afford to pay,” he says.
“If you think that paying your energy bill may be a problem, there is help. Aside from contacting your supplier – which according to regulator Ofgem is obliged to help you where it can – there are government schemes available that you may be eligible for to get a discount or grant to contribute to your energy costs.”
The most talked about one lately is the Energy Bills Rebate, which was announced last month.
“It will help reduce bills, although it’s been controversial. £200 will be debited off your bill in October, but you can’t opt out of the scheme. Also, this is a loan, so you’ll have to pay it back (again, automatically),” explains Martyn.
Customers will pay back the discount automatically in equal instalments over five years, starting from financial year 2023-24, when wholesale gas prices are expected to come down. This is expected to be reflected as an increase to standing charges on bills, as stated on the government’s website.
Winter Fuel Payment
For anyone who’s older and lives by themselves, there is also the Winter Fuel Payment, which could give you between £100 and £300 in the winter to help cover the cost of your heating bills.
“To qualify your date of birth must be on or before 26 September, 1955 and you also need to have lived in the UK for at least one day of the ‘qualifying week’ – this year that would have between September 20 and 26, 2021.
“If you meet the above eligibility criteria then you automatically get the Winter Fuel Payment if you receive either a State Pension, or another social security benefit (but not Housing Benefit, Council Tax Reduction, Child Benefit or Universal Credit). If you get neither of these, you’ll need to make a claim for the payment.”
Cold Weather Payment
If you’re receiving certain benefits, including pension benefit, income support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance or Employment and Support Allowance, Universal Credit or Support for Mortgage Interest, then you may be entitled to a Cold Weather Payment.
“This is a payment of £25 for every seven consecutive days of very cold weather – defined as being or forecast to be zero degrees Celsius or below – this year that was between 1 November 2021 and 31 March 2022.
“You shouldn’t need to claim for a Cold Weather Payment if you’re eligible as it should be paid automatically, and you can check on the Government’s website to see if your postcode qualifies.”
And while it’s nearly spring 2022, the latter two are definitely worth considering for winter 2022/2023.
Your energy supplier can also help
“Under regulator Ofgem’s rules, energy suppliers must work with you to agree a payment plan you can afford if you’re worried about paying your energy bills.”
As part of this, options you can ask for include a review of your payments or repayments, payment breaks or reductions, more time to pay or access to hardship funds.
“You may find your energy supplier is one of those that operates a scheme or grants to help with energy costs – contact your supplier directly to ask and see if you can apply. Some of these schemes are actually open to all, meaning you don’t have to be a customer to receive it,” adds Martyn.
Stop the heat escaping
A handful of quick fixes around the home can ensure you stop wasting heat - meaning you save money by having the heating on less.
Did you know that around a third of all the heat lost in an uninsulated home escapes through the walls, while 25% is lost through the roof? If you’re a homeowner (or if you rent, check with your landlord), see if there are ways to maximise your wall and roof insulation.
Similarly, water pipes and tanks lose a lot of heat, so insulating them means they’re hotter for longer – reducing the amount of energy you use.
It’s no surprise that older homes are more expensive to heat, so if your windows are single-glazed, look into double or even triple-glazing. Expensive at first, it will save you money in the long run and dramatically slash your heating bills.
Draught-proofing however is a great (and fairly cheap) quick fix. Draught-excluding strips and door seals can stop the cold coming in and the heat going out – and if you have a fireplace, block it up when not in use.
Assess where you live – and see if it’s time to move
From personal experience, be careful choosing where you live. I’ve lived on my own for many years now, and my current flat is well-suited to me. It’s a new-build, and it doesn’t take long to heat up. But compare that to my previous flat, which was a studio in a converted former pub. It was spacious and oozed charm and character. It was an architectural dream - but a bill payer’s nightmare.
It was Grade II-listed, meaning the owners were limited in what they could do, and weren’t able to install gas heating or a fireplace. I had to rely on storage heaters which were of little use when the place was one big room, had high ceilings, and one of the walls was a single-glazed pub front window. I’ve never been so cold in my entire life.
A trick I did learn though was to keep the oven door open once you’ve taken your food out, as that remaining heat will slowly make its way out into the rest of the room (handy if you’re living in an open space such as studio or have an open-plan kitchen/living room).
But don’t make the same mistake I did. If you live alone and plan to move before next winter, make sure you’re looking at any potential properties with an eagle-eye. Ask yourself: ‘will this place be a nightmare to heat in the winter?’, ‘does it rely on gas or electric heating?’, and ‘are the windows doing a good job at keeping the heat in?’
Save on your water bill
“Water bills are a bit trickier, but you are entitled to compensation for delays fixing problems,” explains Martyn. Also, many water companies, like gas and electricity suppliers, may be able to help by letting you pay your bill in more manageable payments if you are struggling.
And if you can, get a water meter installed. Having a meter fitted can help save you hundreds of pounds as you only pay for the water you use, rather than fixed payments. They’re suited for homes that have low water usage – such as single-person households.
There are also a number of things you can do around the home to help curb unnecessary water usage – such as fitting an energy-efficient shower head, swapping baths for showers, and shortening your time in the shower. According to the Energy Saving Trust, spending one minute less in the shower each day will shave up to £8 a year off your energy bills, per person. With a water meter, this could save an additional £11 off annual water and sewerage bills.
When using ‘wet’ appliances such as your washing machine and dishwasher, only use them when they’re full, and opt for the ‘eco mode’ if your machine has it.
“These machines have to heat the water they use and this can result in them generating a quarter of the cost of your energy bill,” he explains.
And if you can, switch your lightbulbs with LEDs – as you could find yourself saving up to £50 annually. “If it’s too expensive to do in one go, replace them as the old ones die.”
“Most broadband contracts have clauses allowing the businesses to increase interest rates above the rate of inflation. This might come as a shock to people on fixed term deals with a way to go before the end of their contracts. Watch out for announcements on this in the coming weeks,” explains Martyn.
“If you’ve come to the end of your broadband deal, and millions of us have, you are probably overpaying. The best estimates suggest that you could save at least £150 by switching. If you didn’t know that your contract could go up before it ended, make a formal complaint and see if the firm will let you leave without an exit fee.”
“Just cut back on things like Netflix!” many unsympathetic readers may cry - but it’s not as simple as that.
If you have multiple friends or family members who live alone, there’s no point in all of you shelling out for the same accounts. For instance, my mum, sister, and I all live separately, but we share our streaming services so we’re not all paying triple for services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+, and Now TV. Little switch-ups like that can help you and other solo inhabitants save hundreds of pounds each year.
Do you have any money-saving tips that I’ve missed out? Get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org to share your hints and hacks.