Become a Student for a Year of Discounts

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student discount cardA lot of places offer student discounts, ranging from online stores to supermarkets to tourist attractions. These can be a great way to save money, but the problem is if you don’t happen to be a student then you aren’t eligible for the discount.

But there is a way to become a “student” for a year and access most or all of the student discounts you would get. This is entirely legal at time of writing, and though it has become quite a popular trick there are no signs of a rule change. And if you’re wondering, it does not require you to hand over £9,000 for a year’s tuition fees.

Becoming a Student

The key point to consider is that many student discounts are, more specifically, special offers available to people who hold a National Union of Students or NUS Student Discount Card. Fortunately for the frugal, you do not have to be attending university in order to qualify for the card. They are available for £12 for a one-year card to people studying just about any course at a wide range of institutions, including most online learning providers. Even if your course only lasts a few weeks, you will be able to keep using the card to get disocunts until it expires at the end of the year. So to become a student and be eligible for the card, all you need to do is sign up for a cheap online course from a provider. Usually, these courses are advertised at around £200 each but are frequently made available on special offer or through daily deal sites like Groupon and Wowcher for a fraction of the price. For a course that could cost as little as £9 plus the price of the card, for a total expense starting at £21, you could get a whole year’s access to some quite significant discounts. To double check whether a course will qualify you, you can start the process of ordering a card and see if the provider comes up on the list.

Do I Have to Study the Course?

With the kind of online course providers that usually offer their courses at these prices, you don’t strictly need to even study the course. There should not be any negative consequences for never attending the virtual lectures, reading course materials, or completing the assignments apart from the fact you will not get your certificate at the end. That being said, it seems sensible to try to pick a course you might actually be interested in so that you can get your money’s worth by actually studying it, but of course that is up to you.

Is it Worth It?

Some of the discounts you get with an NUS card can be quite generous, so it is entirely possible to save much more than you spend on the course and the card itself before the year is through. You might want to take a look at what discounts are actually available, though, as this will help you assess how many of the offers you are likely to take advantage of and get an idea of how much you could save.


Claiming Compensation for a Delayed Train Journey

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train_delaysUnless train travel is a real rarity for you, you’ve almost certainly had more than one experience of a rail delay. When you just want to get where you’re going, there is nothing more frustrating than sitting at a platform while your train’s expected arrival time gets further and further away, or finding out at the last minute that your train is cancelled altogether and it is a whole hour until the next one.

What a lot of people don’t realise is that, if you have more than a small delay on your journey, you will likely be entitled to claim a refund on some or all of your ticket price. While rail companies are generally good at issuing these refunds, they aren’t exactly big on publicising the fact that the option is available.

While details may vary according to the company running the delayed train, the following information should be true in most or all cases:

How Much Could you Reclaim?

If you choose not to travel at all because of a delay or cancellation, then you should be entitled to have your ticket completely refunded. In normal circumstances, deciding not to travel means you can refund your ticket minus a £10 admin fee, but if disruption was the reason then you should be able to get back the full face value.

If you do travel, different rail companies set different levels of compensation, so check with the train operator’s website for exact information. However, if you were delayed by at least a full hour then the minimum that a company must offer is 50% of your ticket’s value. For more serious delays, many companies offer a full refund. Some companies even compensate for much shorter delays. For example Southern Rail – whose services have made headlines for heavy disruption recently – offer a 25% refund for delays of as little as 15 minutes, and refund the full cost of a single journey for an hour’s delay.

Where a ticket covers multiple journeys, the refund will only apply to the affected part. For example, if you were delayed on one leg of the return journey then your compensation will be calculated based on half the ticket’s total cost as you are being compensated for one journey out of two. Similarly if you hold a season ticket it will be calculated based on the proportional cost of one day’s travel.

Claims may be refused in some situations where the delay was outside the rail network’s control, such as severe weather or cases where the emergency services closed part of the line.

How to Claim

Like exact compensation levels, claim methods vary between different train operators. Most refunds can be claimed by filling out a physical form that can be picked up at train stations. You will need to send off the form with your ticket, a receipt for your ticket, or other proof of purchase. Some operators also allow you to make your claim online. In this case you will have to attach a scan of your ticket or proof of purchase. Links to the appropriate sections of all train operator websites can be found on this page.

Various methods of repayment may be offered by the operator including bank transfer, PayPal, cheque, e-vouchers for future travel, or direct refund to a debit or credit card.


Software and Websites Frugal People Should Know

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It’s good to be frugal, and being frugal is easier when you have the right tools at your disposal. There are a few bits of software, websites, and general tech tools that frugal people should know about if they want to take their money-saving efforts as far as possible for the least amount of effort.

Spotify

spotifySpotify is a music streaming service. There are various account plans available, but prices start at free. There is a huge catalogue of music available, which includes most big hits past and present as well as a range of more obscure, specialist, niche artists. Unless you have a paid account, adverts will be played every few minutes which is how the service is funded, but they are not intrusive. A few competitors such as Deezer can also offer a good experience, but Spotify is definitely the market leader. This essentially translates into free music. Spotify and most competitors also offer mobile apps for portability but these can be tough on your data plan and generally have restrictions. For example, the Spotify app allows unlimited free streaming, but only in shuffle mode. In other words, you can choose an artist or album but not which specific track to play or the order they play in.

Google Shopping Search

Google Shopping Search, also sometimes known by the catchy name of Froogle, is sort of like a price comparison for physical products. When shopping online, you can type in the name of the product you are looking for and Froogle will search a number of sites, including the likes of eBay, for the best prices. It’s not perfect and it shouldn’t be taken as gospel that the things it finds are the very, very best deals going, but it is still well worth checking if you are shopping around for a bargain on a specific product.

mySupermarket

The mySupermarket website is sort of like Google Shopping Search but for actual, physical shops. It is quite comprehensive, covering a fairly complete range of high street retailers and a huge variety of everyday items. You might not think your weekly shop really needs a price comparison site, but the website makes it easy enough that it can be well worth putting in your shopping list and seeing which store comes out as offering the best deal. It mostly focuses on the kind of things you would put in your trolley week after week, but does also cover a respectable range of other products such as electronics, books, and entertainment.


Your Guide to Using Daily Deal Websites

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DealsDaily deal websites are a group of sites that offer deals, coupons and discounts from various other businesses. The deals in question could be for physical products, services, days out, or even holidays. New deals, as the name may suggest, tend to be added every day but they all either have limited availability or are only valid for a certain time. By far the two most prominent of these sites are Groupon and Wowcher, though there are a number of other websites around that fall into this category too.

These sites can be great money-savers, but it is also possible to make mistakes with them. If you want to get the most out of these sites and ensure you get good value out of them, there are a few things to bear in mind.

Always Check the Newsletter

If you want to get the most out of these sites, then the first step will be to make sure you don’t miss deals you might benefit from. The easiest way to do this is simply to sign up for their newsletter (this will usually be the first thing they ask you to do when you visit their site), and make sure you take the time to look through it every time it pops into your inbox.

Check Postage

This is always good practice when shopping online, but especially with daily deal websites. Postage is generally different for every deal offered and is generally hidden in small print away from the main price. Often, a bargain deal comes with free postage. At other times, small items come with a seemingly excessive postage charge of several pounds, and this can represent a significant portion of the overall price and easily be enough to turn a good deal into a bad one.

Shop Around

When the item being offered is a physical product, it can pay to look around the web a bit. While all the items being sold on these sites are discounted, prices are only reduced relative to the price usually charged by the specific business that is making the offer, and this may not be cheap. It is not uncommon to find the exact same product cheaper elsewhere – notably on eBay or Amazon – and at the very least finding it on a site like Amazon may also give you a chance to see customer reviews.

Don’t Buy Unnecessary Things

These kind of websites rely partly on impulse buying, and while the newsletter might be a good way to ensure you don’t miss deals it can also serve to encourage unnecessary purchases. The idea is that you see something that looks nice or fun, the price seems good, and it has quite a big discount applied, so you buy it quick before the item runs out and worry later about whether you should have done so. There is nothing wrong with treating yourself sometimes, but for the most part you should actively avoid this kind of buying behaviour. Think carefully and try to be sure that an item is something that you would have bought anyway, something that will be genuinely useful, or just generally something you won’t regret buying later.


How Your Mobile Could Save you Money

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smartphonesIt’s not that long ago that mobile phones made texts, received calls, played basic games and browsed the internet at the speed of a heavily-laden snail. Then the first smartphones hit the market and everything changed. Now, many of us have phones that are really complete miniature, portable computers. However, a lot of people don’t realise quite how many ways there are to save money with their phones.

Turn it Into a Sat Nav

If you’re in need of a sat nav, you could just use your phone. Perhaps you’ve tried the in-built navigation app and found it pretty rubbish, but that’s not your only option. There are several excellent free and paid-for sat nav apps available in app stores. This includes apps from some of the major sat nav brands such as TomTom which, though they cost money, are much cheaper than buying an actual sat nav from that brand. With the right app, there is little or nothing your smart phone can’t do that a sat nav can. You will need to buy some sort of holder or cradle for your phone and ideally an in-car charger (sat nav functionality can be a big drain on the battery), but this will only set you back a few pounds.

Showrooming

Most people have been in this situation at one point or another: you’re in a shop looking at something you want and the price seems good. You think you could still probably get it cheaper online, but you’re not completely sure and you’re worried about missing out. Instead of just heading to the checkouts and hoping for the best, you should take out your phone and indulge in an increasingly popular practice called “showrooming.” This is as simple as using your phone’s internet browser to check prices online and see if you really are getting a good deal. If you don’t do this because you’re simply shy about whipping out your phone in a shop in case staff guess what you are up to (naturally, shops aren’t keen on this practice), then just leave for a wander around some other shops and come back if you do decide to buy.

Special Offers

It’s not uncommon for companies to offer incentives such as vouchers or discounts in order to get people to download their latest app. Assuming the app is free, or worth less than the incentive on offer, then this is definitely something to keep an eye out for. Unless the app is a genuinely useful one (often it is just an easy shopping utility for the company offering the incentive), there is no reason to keep it cluttering up your phone when you’re done. But when it would probably take a couple of minutes to install it and claim your reward, neither is there any reason not to get that free item or a voucher for 10% off your next purchase.


Days Out in Summer for Less

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Summer is officially here, and the sun is finally starting to catch on to that fact and coming out to play. Many of us will no doubt want to take advantage of the warm weather for days out or outdoor activities, especially if we have kids who are enjoying time off school. The cost of days out, however, can be quite hefty if you have a whole family paying entry fees.

However, there are a few tactics you can use to enjoy days out for much less than the standard ticket price. Some methods you might want to consider include:

National Trust: Go Scottish

Many of the country’s best parks, gardens and historic homes are in the ownership of the National Trust. However, membership of the National Trust can be expensive, and ticket prices for individual properties can get even more costly if you want to go to a few places.

A cheaper way to gain membership is to join the National Trust for Scotland. Members of Scotland’s national trust don’t need to live there and aren’t confined to Scottish properties. You get full access to National Trust properties throughout the UK, but is noticeably cheaper than standard National Trust membership. Family membership cost £104 with the National Trust but can be as little as £69.40 for its Scottish counterpart (including a first year discount if you set up a direct debit).

Clubcard Points

The Tesco Clubcard is one of the most popular and well-known loyalty cards in the UK, and it also happens to be one of the most flexible. Clubcard points can be spent and redeemed in exchange for a wide range of different things, and this includes entry to a wide range of attractions throughout the UK.

The best bit, however, is the “exchange rate.” Clubcard points convert very favourably into money off vouchers in this category, and quite often the value is 4:1. In other words, for very £2.50s worth of Clubcard points you convert into vouchers (in terms of their standard value as money off of shopping), you will get £10 towards entry to many of the attractions on offer.

The Beach

Beaches are the very archetype of summer days out, and they remain one of the most popular options. In July, August and, if you’re lucky, even September a lot of British beaches do a very passable impression of a sunny holiday destination. Sunbathing, swimming and – for younger family members – building sandcastles and exploring rock pools are all excellent summer activities, made all the better by the fact that beaches are entirely free.

Of course, in practice this isn’t going to translate into a completely free day out. If you don’t happen to have the seaside on your doorstep you will have the cost of getting there. Taking a picnic can keep food costs down, but it’s almost inevitable you’ll end up buying an ice cream or two. Even so, unless you have a very long way to travel on public transport, beaches still represent a much cheaper summer day out than most pay-to-enter attractions.


Getting the Best Bargains on eBay

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ebay logoOnline shopping has transformed the way we buy things, but eBay in particular is a marketplace unlike any other. Businesses and individuals with second hand items are found side-by-side. “Buy it Now” items from countless independent sellers alongside the auctions which form eBay’s flagship feature.

The auction and selling site can be a great place to find bargains, but it is also easy to get stung or carried away with an auction and end up paying over the odds. Tactics you can use to help make sure you get good bargains include:

Don’t Rely on eBay Alone

Very often, the cheapest prices can be found on eBay – but this is definitely not something you can assume. Look on other sites like Amazon to see if there are better prices out there, rather than relying on eBay alone to look for bargains.

Sort Your Results

Always sort your search results instead of leaving them on eBay’s default “Best Match” ordering. Which order you choose, however, depends on what you are looking for:

  • Cheap Auctions: Sort by “Time: Ending Soonest” to bring auctions that will finish soon to the top of the list. Look for items that are going to finish in minutes or hours and are still at low prices, and then items that you might want to add to your “Watch List” for later.
  • Buy-it-Now Bargains: Simply sort by “Price+P&P: Lowest First.” Don’t confuse this with “Price: Lowest First” which excludes postage charges and therefore doesn’t reflect the amount you will actually pay. With some items such as gadgets, however, you may find yourself sorting through pages of 99p accessories before getting to the item you want.
  • Second Hand Items: This is a little more complex. Most second hand bargains are listed as auctions, so sort your results accordingly. Buy-it-Now listings can and should also be checked as you would at any other time. However, if you have had a good look through the items and want to wait and see if you get a better deal another time, in future you should sort Buy-it-Now listings by “Time: Newly Listed.” This will bring listings that have been placed since you last looked to the top, and help you find bargain Buy-it-Now prices that might not last for long before being snapped up.

Bid Tactically

Don’t just bid at any old time – think carefully about when and how to bid. If you think the item may go for the starting price or not much more, it may be worth placing a bid as soon as you are sure that you want to. Other people are less likely to bid if they see that a bid has already been placed than if they see that nobody has bid yet, and this can put off competition. If you think other bids are inevitable, wait until the last day. This will help you see whether the price stays low enough to be of interest, and give other bidders less time to outbid you.

If you are outbid shortly before the auction ends and want to bid back, leave it until the most last-minute moment you can stomach. This significantly reduces the chance that the other bidder will simply, instantly outbid you again. However, don’t get carried away and pay more than you intend, or more than you would pay if you simply bought the item elsewhere.


Getting Things for Free

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freeThey say that there’s no such thing as a free lunch, by which they really mean that everything has a catch. However, there are times when you might find you are paying for something when you could get it for free. It may be that there really is no significant catch, or it might simply be that the catch is outweighed by the money you save.

Anti-virus Software

If your computer doesn’t have anti-virus software, or it has software that is years out of date because you don’t want to renew the subscription, then you should get some ASAP. The internet is a far safer place with some security software tucked away on your hard drive.

The problem for many people is that anti-virus packages usually aren’t cheap as software goes, and you have to pay for them every single year. If you want a license that allows you to use it on multiple machines, this can be even more expensive. Fortunately, there are several completely free packages out there.

Before you balk at trusting your computer’s safety (and by extension your passwords and bank details) to a free package, several free security suites regularly equal or outperform the big names in tests and expert reviews. There is really no safety compromise involved in choosing a free package. The catch is that these companies all have paid products, and they will send you advertisements and offers to try and get you to upgrade. Ignore them; free protection should be more than adequate for home users.

Freecycle

Freecycle, and similar initiatives such as Freegle, are local communities designed to allow people to simply give things away. The idea is to reduce waste and recycle items that would either be thrown away or languish unused in a cupboard, rehoming them with people who want or need them. People who have such items can advertise them to the group, and those who want the item can get in contact.

You can see all sorts of things on Freecycle, from furniture to freshly-laid eggs. You can also post requests, so if you are going to buy something that you think somebody might be willing to give away you can try posting a wanted ad before spending your money. However, there are some rules of etiquette to follow. It is usually considered rude and irritating to other users if you post too many “wanted” ads, so try not to get carried away. It is also a good idea not to post ridiculous requests. This may seem obvious, but there are people who will seriously post “wanted” adverts for items like cars or high-value electronics.


Three Steps to Reduce Food Waste

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The average household wastes a surprising amount of food every year, and this leaves its impact on a family budget. If less food were wasted, less would have to be bought and the money spent on food would fall. The average household loses £470 a year on wasted food, according to Love Food Hate Waste, and for families with children that annual figure rises to £700.

There are several things you can do to reduce the amount of food that you waste and save that money for something else. These include:

Don’t be a Slave to Expiration Dates

It is estimated that over half of the food thrown away in the UK by households could still have been eaten. This is largely down to people adhering strictly to the dates printed on food. These dates are an important guideline, but that’s what they are a guideline. If in doubt, throw food away but use your common sense first. Dates should have a few days “safety net” built in, and many foods will make it obvious when they have really gone off. For example, milk will smell bad long before it becomes harmful.

It is also good to know the difference between “Use By” and “Best Before” dates. “Use By” is used for foods that become harmful when they go off. “Best Before” means the food may decline in quality but should be okay to eat unless there are issues such as mould.

Take Stock Regularly

Most food ends up expiring and getting thrown away because it has been forgotten about for a while. A great way to reduce waste is to regularly look through your fridge and cupboards and make sure you keep aware of the situation surrounding any perishable or opened foods you have. This could be as simple as asking yourself the question “do I have anything that needs to be used up” before deciding what to have for each meal.

If you need help keeping track there are several tactics you can use. For instance, you could assign a particular shelf in your fridge or cupboard exclusively to things that have been opened and need to be used, or which you have noticed have short dates. Alternatively, keep gods organised by how long they will last. It might take some time to get them in order in the first place, but after that it will be relatively simple to keep things that way.

Don’t Buy Excessively

Another way to cut food waste is to avoid buying too much of anything that will spoil in one go. People tend to be naturally drawn to larger value packs or multibuy discount offers because these usually represent the best value. However, if the extra is just going to get wasted, you are losing money instead of saving it.

If the savings from buying in bulk still look tempting, you might want to try splitting large packs of perishable goods with a friend. If you each pay half of the price and take half of the food, you will both get a better price than you would from a smaller pack and it will be easier to avoid waste.


Pointless Purchases: Things to Avoid Buying

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Bottled WaterSometimes, the best way to cut your spending is to identify things you can stop buying altogether. There are some things that are simply not necessary, or at least that there’s no point spending very much money on. Here are a few purchases that should be avoided, because you’re not really getting anything for your money.

Bottled Water

There is no evidence at all that mineral water is any healthier than tap water, so by buying bottled water you are paying money for something you have, quite literally, on tap at home. In fact, some studies have suggested there is a slightly higher risk to drinking bottled water because of looser safety regulations.

There are two situations in which you might have very good reasons to buy bottled water; when you need a drink while out and about or when you want a bottle that you can refill. Other than that, you (and your purse) will be better off with the tap variety. If you live in a hard water area and don’t like the taste, consider a water filter as a cheaper alternative to buying bottles.

Expensive Video Cables

Currently, HDMI leads are the dominant form of video cable and they come in a ridiculous array of prices. They are not unheard of in the pound shop, or they can easily cost £50-60. In fact, even major high street retailer Currys is currently selling a “Hyper Speed” HDMI cable for £149.99.

However, the biggest practical difference between this and a £1 cable is the fact that the “Hyper Speed” cable costs an extra £148.99. In the days when everything was analogue, your choice of cable may have made a very small difference to picture quality but digital signals are not subject to the same interference. As long as the signal reaches your TV set, the picture will be identical no matter how much you spend on a cable and phrases like “Hyper Speed” are virtually meaningless. Save your money and buy the cheapest cable you can find.

Disposable Batteries

Batteries are a necessity, but they can always be quite irritating. We need them to power so many of the things we own, but no matter how many we buy there never seem to be enough. They can also be expensive, and trying to economise with cheaper products soon turns out to be a false economy as they run out in no time.

Rechargeable batteries work out far cheaper than disposable ones. They also have the added advantage that, if you stock up fairly well, you will always have batteries to hand or, at worst, a quick charge away. High-capacity rechargeable batteries provide a life on each charge that rivals all but the most expensive of disposables. Their capacity is measured in mAh (milliamp hours), so the higher the number the better the batteries. However, if buying online always choose trusted brands. The web is full of weak, no-name batteries claiming absurdly high capacities, often higher than any real battery on the market.