50 tips 'n' tricks to save if you've got kids
The cost of raising a child to 21 is estimated at £230,000 – a wail-inducing sum. Yet whether you're starting a family or in the midst of one, there are loads of tips 'n' tricks to save.
This is our toy chest of 55 quick tips on how to save money with kids, including free TV show recordings, cheap kids' clothes and cheap family travel insurance.
50 family MoneySaving tips, including...
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Don't leave life insurance until it's too late
In the UK, over 23,000 parents of children under 18 die each year. It's a sobering fact, so life insurance is well worth considering if you've got kids.
Level term life assurance is one of the cheapest ways to protect your family's income if you die, because it will pay a fixed amount to your dependants. The two key words are:
This means you only get a payout if you die within a fixed term, eg, 18 years.
This means the payout you get is always at a set amount. So level term assurance guarantees a lump sum payout upon death within a fixed time, eg, £150,000 if you die within the next 18 years.
Of course, it's one policy you really hope won't pay out, but it's well worth looking into. See full info on all the options and how to find the cheapest in the Life Insurance guide.
If you die, what'd happen to your kids?
If you've assets such as savings or a house, and others you'd like to look after, consider making a will. It's easy to put this off, but it's well worth tackling as soon as possible, both for your kids and for your peace of mind.
A will has three main functions:
- It names your executors.
These are the people you choose to sort out your finances after you've gone.
- It distributes your estate.
A will lets you state where everything you own will go, from property to pets.
It mitigates inheritance tax.
If you die without a will, strict rules mean your assets may not go where you want them to. If you haven't planned for it, inheritance tax may take a hefty chunk. See the Inheritance Tax Planning guide for help.
Don't leave a financial nightmare for your family. Even if you've already got a will, make sure it's current. Solicitor-drafted wills can be cheap or free to make or amend. Find full info on all the options in the Free and Cheap Wills guide.
If you've kids or step-kids under 18, take time to discuss who'd look after them if you died, and ensure there are funds to help.
- It names your executors.
You could be due £1,000s in child tax credits
Having kids soon adds up, from new shoes to school trips and more. Tax credits can massively help offset this. They can be worth £1,000s a year.
Tax credits are payouts from the state made regularly into your bank account to support you if you've got kids, or if you work but have a low income. How much you'll get depends on your circumstances. The more kids you have, the more you could get.
There are two types, and you can be eligible for none, one or both:
Child Tax Credit
Anyone with children, whether working or not, could be eligible
Working Tax Credit
Anyone who works, whether they've got kids or not, could be eligible
You'll need to renew every year.
If not, your repayments could stop completely. Always tell the tax office if your circumstances change to avoid overpayment hell.
Urgently check what you're entitled to.
Get the family in free to TV show recordings
If your family often ends up staying in watching Saturday night TV, why not take 'em to see it being recorded?
Audience tickets are a great family day out for nowt, plus your kids get to see how their fave shows are put together.
You can watch TV shows, sitcoms and comedies being made, including X-Facor. See Free TV Tickets for how to apply.
Family fun for nowt at free museums
If you're looking to educate and entertain the kids at the same time, the Free Museums and Galleries guide is crammed with UK venues that don't charge a penny.
These are a brain-boosting way of getting a fun (and free!) family day out. You'll find masses to choose from, with museums dedicated to everything from Roman forts and railways to forensic science and football.
To find your nearest, click on your area on the in-guide map for full listings, plus location, opening times and more.
If you're after free outdoor events, check out the Free Festivals guide for a round-up of the top gigs nationwide. You'll find festivals across the UK on everything from jazz 'n' blues to carnivals and outdoor theatre performances. You'll also find area-by-area listings on the in-guide map.
DON'T Google EHICs – go here to get 'em free
Whether planning a kids-friendly holiday in Corfu or a couples' trip to Alicante, make sure all the family have up-to-date European Health Insurance Cards (EHICs) to get FREE family medical care on Euro holidays.
It's valid across the EU.
The EHIC can get free or discounted medical treatment in state-run hospitals in any European Union country, plus a few others.
It doesn't cost a penny.
Don't just Google "EHIC", as you'll get a host of unoffical websites that charge a fee to do it for you. Apply via the official link in the Free EHIC guide to ensure you get them for nowt.
It entitles you to the same treatment as a local.
This is extremely useful in emergencies, and means if it's free for them, it's free for you. Make sure you keep it on you at all times when you're away. You won't be covered if not.
Kids need one too.
Though you must be over 16 to apply, every family member needs one. To apply on behalf of a child, include them as a 'dependant' in the application and you'll each get a separate EHIC.
It isn't a substitute for travel insurance.
Save over £300 on family fuel bills by switching
With kids' baths, games consoles, TVs and lights left on, extra heating and more, even small families can face huge fuel bills, leaving many worrying about how to save money. That's why switching to a cheap tariff to save £300+ a year to break the energy loyalty habit is so important.
Switching isn't a big faff. It's the same electricity, same gas, same safety. Only service, billing and price changes.
Our unique Cheap Energy Club is designed to keep you permanently on the cheapest tariff - fighting the fact most cheap deals only last one or two years before their rates rise. It does this by...
- Finding you the cheapest deal. If you're already on it, great. If not, it'll help you switch. You usually get £25 cashback on top for a dual fuel switch or £12.50 cashback for switching just gas or electricity.
- Then constantly monitoring your tariff. Each month, without you doing anything, we do a background comparison to check yours is still cheapest.
- Alerts you when it's time to switch (again). If you can save by switching either because your rate's changed, or others have, we'll tell you.
- Finding you the cheapest deal. If you're already on it, great. If not, it'll help you switch. You usually get £25 cashback on top for a dual fuel switch or £12.50 cashback for switching just gas or electricity.
Can you take kids on term-time holidays without being fined?
The cost of going away rockets during school holidays, so it's no wonder many are tempted to go during term time. However, each year 10,000s are fined £60 for doing so - in theory, the LEA could skip the fine and prosecute you straightaway, which could mean much higher financial penalties and a criminal record.
For the latest on what you can and can't do see our School Holiday Fines guide.
Do a proper family budget
With family bills, holidays and day-to-day living costs, looking after a family can really stretch your finances. So it's crucial to make sure you're budgeting correctly. First, use the free Budget Planner tool to work out exactly where your cash is going.
Don't ask "What's the cheapest way?", ask "What can I afford?"
Next, give yourself a full Money Makeover. This guide overhauls your finances, taking you through everything from debts to utilities. It'll take time to work through, but it's time well invested. Some end up thousands better off in a single day.
Don't chuck best-befores away needlessly
"Yuck" is a word kids say a lot. So teach 'em early that there's usually nowt wrong with eating food after its best-before date.
If you don't know the difference between a best-before and a display-until date, it's likely you're binning a lot of food unnecessarily. To help, we've designed a free printable Food Saving Memo. Stick it on your fridge to check before you chuck.
For help using up larder leftovers, tell the Supercook tool what items are in your fridge or cupboard and it'll suggest a recipe for them from 1,000s, while BigOven also has a huge amount of recipes to help. Also see the meal planning and menu plans discussions to help you to only buy food you need.
100,000s miss out on £1,000s for childcare
Childcare costs can be hefty, yet 100,000s of working parents are missing out on £1,000s of easy cash to help. It's a common misconception that tax credits are for the unemployed.
The money available's huge, so it's vital to check you're eligible. It's possible 100,000s of families are missing out, so spread the word, and see Childcare Costs Help for more:
Use free kids' sports schemes in school hols
Keeping fidgety kids entertained during the school holidays can be exhausting (particularly if they've discovered the golden phrase: "I'm booored!").
But there's a quick trick that doesn't cost a penny. Free sports activities such as tennis and football coaching are a great way to keep kids entertained (and healthy) for nowt between terms.
When they're available, they're listed in the Cheap Days Out deals page, along with how to find participating venues to bag a place at.
Do a 10-min child benefits check-up
A treasure trove of extra cash is available to help families with kids in tow, yet many wrongly assume they aren't eligible. To quickly check, use the Benefits Check Up. Just enter your details to see how much you may be entitled to.
There are masses of benefits available to help families and those on lower incomes and the tool will help check your eligibility for all the main benefits, including council tax and housing benefit, income support and many, many more.
Snaffle cut-price zoo tix with 2for1 deals
Whether you're off to the zoo for education, fun or just the cute factor (the penguins are Martin's favourite!) don't just pay full price on the day.
Zoo discount vouchers can mean big savings if you're taking your little monkeys, and can be as simple as printing a voucher for two tickets for the price of one, or booking online for discounts.
To help, we've compiled the latest deals for the UK's biggest zoos - see the Cheap Zoo Deals page for the full compendium of latest discounts.
Your kids CAN afford to go to uni
Don't think the student fees shake-up means uni isn't affordable. Some students won't need to repay at all, others will pay far less than the fees and some will pay back more.
The Student Loans Mythbusting guide's a one-stop-shop for all you need to know about the English student finance. It's crammed with info on who's affected, how much your loan will really cost, living costs and more.
To slice the cost of day-to-day living at uni, the Student Checklist has 50 quick tips to stretch your cash, from discounts and freebies to grants and extra support.
Bag top kids' prezzies for under a fiver
Birthdays and Christmases can be eye-wateringly expensive if you've got kids to buy for. But there's masses of tried-and-tested treats that'll keep them grinning for next to nothing.
To help, we've put together a mammoth database of sub-£5 gift ideas, compiled from our Festive Fivers competitions. As well as a list of ingenious present ideas for adults, you'll find oodles of ideas to put smiles on kids' faces. Here's one to get you started:
Cost: £1-2 Contest Entry Year: 2005
Young children don't value gifts based on the price. It's often said they're more interested in playing with the wrapping than the gifts, so don't shell out big bucks without need.
A perennial favourite is the balloon box. Get a huge box, fill it tight with blown-up balloons, then wrap it. It'll be the most adored few quid you'll ever spend – though carefully supervise it so burst balloon-bits stay out of little mouths.
Please keep them out of babies' reach as balloons can choke young children.
Give pocket money as pay to teach cash skills
We're not talking Justin Bieber-sized amounts of income, but pocket money can teach kids to manage their own cash.
Martin says in his blog Give pocket money as pay:
Pocket money is under-rated as a way to teach kids core money lessons. The idea of them having their own cash is beneficial.
It teaches them about regular income.
By having a regular amount of money you learn the concept of saving versus spending.
It incorporates 'opportunity cost'.
It encourages kids to consider whether they could get better benefit spending the same cash on something else.
It's a beginners' guide to saving.
Pocket money helps kids to start tackling more complex questions on how and where to save their cash.
Free kids' prescriptions, dental check-ups...
It isn't all bad news when it comes to the cost of family healthcare. Young people can get free prescriptions, dental and optical check-ups across the UK.
How it works depends on where you are:
In England, under-16s (and under-19s in full-time education) get free NHS prescriptions, NHS eye tests and optical vouchers. Under-18s (and under-19s in full-time education) get free NHS dental treatment too.
How do I get it? Just tick the box on the prescription form, fill in the form at the dentist, or for free eyecare, fill in form GOS1 from the optician. See the NHS England website for more info.
In Scotland, everyone gets free prescriptions and eye tests. Under-16s (and 16-18s in full-time education) get free NHS dental treatment, and vouchers towards glasses or contact lenses.
The NHS Minor Ailment Service also entitles under-16s, under-19s in full-time education and over-60s to free medication for minor illnesses from 1,200 pharmacies. See the Scottish Government website.
How do I get it? You don't need to do anything – there's simply no charge.
In Wales, under-16s (and 16-18s in full-time education) get free NHS sight tests and help with glasses and contact lenses costs. Under-25s also get free dental examinations, though unless you're under 18 or a full-time student under 19 you'll have to pay for subsequent treatment.
Prescriptions are free regardless of age if you've a Welsh GP and get your prescription from a Welsh pharmacist, or if you're a Welsh patient with an English GP and an accompanying entitlement card. See the Welsh Government website for full details.
How do I get it? There's no charge for prescriptions, or just fill in the form at your dentist or optician. See NHS health costs.
In Northern Ireland, under-18s (and under-19s in full-time education) get free Health Service dental treatment. Under-16s (and 16-18s in full-time education) get free sight tests, and vouchers for glasses or contact lenses. Prescriptions are free for all. See NI Direct for more.
How do I get it? You don't need to do anything – there's simply no charge.
Nab cheap kids' clothing in online outlets
Kids have an uncanny ability to grow out of togs they've only just been bought. To help find kids' clothing for less, outlet shops are a handy way to hunt out bargains. These are stores operated by big brands to sell last season's goods at clearance rates – and now many are available online.
It's also worth keeping an eye on the Clothing Sales deals page. These occasionally have clothing sales with big discounts, which have proven very popular with
Earn up to 4% tax free on kids' savings
It's possible for kids to earn up to 4% in the top savings accounts – but many have cash in accounts that pay dismally. This doesn't just deprive them of interest, but also the chance to learn your money can work for you.
It's a common myth that kids don't pay tax. This isn't true, as they're taxed in exactly the same way as adults.
Yet most children don’t have jobs or earnt income. And for the 2019/20 tax year, if they've no income they can earn up to £18,500 from savings without paying tax on it. Find more, and a full list of best buys in the Children's Savings guide:
Don't just buy theme park tix at the gate
Family theme park tickets can be hair-raisingly expensive if you just pack the kids into the car and pay full price on the day.
But you can often easily cut the cost with 2for1 vouchers or online discounts, so always do a 60-sec check for deals before you head out.
To help, we've a full list of latest ticket offers and a comprehensive UK theme park deals map on the Cheap Theme Parks page.
£100s available in unclaimed home grants
Keeping your kids toasty and safe at home needn't mean shelling out more on gas and electricity bills. A mass of funding's available to help increase your family home's value, warmth and economy.
There are several companies offering free loft and cavity wall insulation, and free boilers too. Find full info and how to apply in the Free Insulation and Boilers guide.
There are wads more freebies on offer, especially for those on low incomes. To speedily uncover these crocks of gold, see the Home and Energy Grant Grabbing guide.
Grab a railcard for 1/3 off family train travel
Whether it's to visit relatives, go shopping or just for a family day out, if your family often travel by train a railcard can be a good investment. It costs £30, but gets you a third off most standard rail fares across Britain for a year.
If you'd usually spend over £90 on train tickets in a year (even just in a single trip), you'd save more than the railcard costs. The two types of railcard that are generally most useful for families are:
Travelling with kids: Family & Friends Railcard.
This can be used on most tickets (excluding first class) when one adult and a minimum of one under-16 travel together (borrowing a child for a day could save you money!) The max is four adults and four kids. Though under-5s normally travel free, they'll need a ticket to get the discount.
Teens, students and young adults: 16-25 Railcard.
This is for under-26s or full-time students of any age. Renew a one-year railcard just before your 26th birthday to grab another year (also applies to older cardholders about to finish uni). If you're travelling first class, you'll need to get an advance ticket to get the railcard discount.
Look out for further travel concessions. If you're looking for how to save money on other travel, some services can offer reduced rates, so always ask. See Cheap Train & Coach Deals for offers.
Beware paying kids' uni fees upfront
The thought of £9,000-a-year tuition fees has sent chills down many parents' spines but trying to stop your kids from borrowing could waste money.
Some are desperate to build uni funds to protect kids from huge debts on graduation. But this laudable aim could be throwing away over £20,000.
Many students won't need to repay anything near their tuition fees' cost – if so, paying upfront is a waste. See the Don't Pay Uni Fees Upfront guide for full info, plus alternatives to help you assist your kids most effectively.
Don't assume junior ISAs are best
Junior ISAs are tax-free savings accounts that six million under-18s can save or invest in per tax year. In 2019/20 the limit is £4,368. They're tax-free until their 18th birthday, when they convert into normal cash ISAs to build a nest egg for adult life.
But for many, they simply aren't worth it. As most kids don't pay tax, junior ISAs have limited benefits so are generally most helpful for more affluent families. See the Junior ISAs guide to check if your kids would be better off with a Top Children's Savings account.
If you save for your child in a junior ISA it's their money, not yours. When they reach 18, they can do whatever they want with it - including blowing the lot. Even cute toddlers can become rebellious teens, so you may prefer to save for them in your account instead. If you're looking to save for kids in your own name, read the box below for full options.
Downshift your grocery shop & save £1,000+
With TV ads encouraging kids to demand pricey brands, the cost of a family food shop quickly adds up. But many can easily save over £1,000 a year by doing the 'downshift challenge' (no earplugs necessary).
Supermarkets have hypnotised us into moving up the brand chain. Many gradually buy increasingly more expensive versions of the same thing.
So here's the challenge: swap one of everything to something just one brand level lower. Then see if you can tell the difference – if not, stick with the cheaper one.
Drop a brand level on everything you buy and you'll usually cut the bill by 30%. For a family's £100 shop that's £1,750 a year.
Kids are far bigger brand and packaging snobs than adults, so if they aren't happy with the unbranded versions, just keep the branded packaging and fill it with cheaper contents. Remember, supermarkets are experts at getting us to buy more than we need:
If you want to teach an eight-year-old about money, the best place to start is a supermarket. Ask them what they can smell: it'll usually be bread or a bakery. The scent makes us hungry and likely to buy more food, so the supermarket profits.
Single parents can get free support
Raising kids on your own can be especially tough. To help, charity Gingerbread offers useful free resources, with factsheets on what to do when a relationship ends, how to enforce child maintenance payments and finding legal help.
It only covers England and Wales, although similar help is available from One Parent Familes Scotland.
If you live in Northern Ireland, and would like information about benefits or tax, you can contact ‘Advice NI’ on its website www.adviceni.net.
Bag restaurant vouchers for cheaper family meals out
Of course, eating in's usually the cheapest way to feed your little monsters. But if you're going for a family meal out, restaurant vouchers are a seriously easy way to save (without anyone going hungry!).
Taking 60 secs to check online for deals for your fave eatery can instantly get you 2for1, 50% off or let the kids eat for 'free'.
Smoking harms family health AND wealth
The MoneySaving gain from quitting isn't just about spending less in newsagents. Many financial products are much pricier for smokers. The health risks are huge, and if you've kids in tow the stakes are much greater.
Stopping smoking may not be easy, but your family (and your wallet) will be much better off. You could easily save £3,000 a year when you add up not buying cigarettes, plus savings on common financial products, eg, life insurance. One forumite reports:
It's the best decision I ever made – without it my daughter would go to school smelling like a dirty ashtray. I'd smoked since I was 12, came from a house where both parents smoked even though we had no money for holidays etc. I never realised how bad the smell was until I stopped.
Under-5s go free to National Trust venues
National parks, castles and gardens are a great place for an educational trip with the kids on a sunny afternoon. The National Trust looks after hundreds of historic houses, castles, gardens and more, and handily offers free entry to all its properties for under-5s.
There's no proof of age needed, and it's part of its ongoing offer. This isn’t mentioned on the online price listings for every National Trust site but National Trust have confirmed that under-5s go free.
There are also plenty more low-cost ways to keep the kids entertained. Trips to the library, walks in the woods and picnics in the park are just a few. See the free weekend activities discussion for more ideas.
Free guide to teach teens cash skills
Companies spend billions of pounds a year on marketing, advertising and teaching staff to sell. But we don't get any "buyers' training", and neither do our kids.
To help, we've a free printable Teen Cash Class PDF to help you make your family into Money Saving Experts. In it, you'll find easy-to-follow, real-life lessons on debt, how to break the impulse shopping chain, and more.
In 2007, ITV's Tonight programme gave Martin a challenge: take a class of ordinary teenagers for one day and turn them into junior Money Saving Experts. The results were astonishing. After class, the 12 pupils saved their families a whopping £5,050!
This is a real practical teenage survival guide to living in one of the most competitive consumer economies in the world.
Top cards for under-18s
If you have kids under the age of 18 then a card could be a great alternative to cash to teach them how to spend wisely. Plus, you can set spending limits and monitor what your child is spending on, giving peace of mind too.
To help, we've a guide on the Top cards for under-18s to help you understand the two main alternatives – prepaid cards and cards that come with children's bank accounts – plus the advantages and disadvantages of each, and why a card could be useful for your kids (and for you!).
Get free cash to study (not just for kids!)
Studying isn't just for kids 'n' teens. Whether you or a family member want to get a degree, learn a new language or even study part time, there may be a grant or free course to help.
Educational Grants Service:
This service offers students, especially disadvantaged ones, guidance and advice to enable them to secure funding for education and training. Its site, part of Family Action, has a searchable database.
There are some nifty search tools on the Scholarship Search and Student Cashpoint websites, including bursaries, scholarships and award funding for students. Some are very specific, aimed at specific religions, locations, parental occupations and more.
Free numeracy and literacy courses:
Virtually every college in the country has free courses to help improve maths and English skills, from basic literacy and numeracy up to GCSE level. See Learndirect, Hotcourses or check on the Gov.uk website for more info.
Learn a language for free:
There are lots of free websites and online tools to make it easy to learn a new language. See Learn a language for free.
Grants are dependent on individual circumstances, so it may not be easy to get one, but there's certainly no harm in trying. See the Education Grants article.
Quickly turn old family mobiles into cash
With kids and teens often getting through handsets quickly, families can soon accumilate old, unused mobile phones but there is an easy way to get some cash back.
A mass of companies offer to recycle old gadgets for money, making this an easy way to make extra cash.
Once you agree to sell, you're even sent a freepost bag for it. To quickly find the best payer for your phone's make and model, use MSE's guide to selling old mobiles. It also works for other gadgets, including games consoles, iPods and more.
Switch to boost interest on stagnant savings
If you're building a family nest egg, don't neglect it. With interest rates at horrendous lows, the only way to get a decent amount's to treat your savings a bit like a job.
Put time in to make sure savings are in the right place:
Find the best rates.
Don't leave it sitting in a high street bank.
This is the easiest way to earn a paltry amount. Most accounts only stay competitive for a year or so, then the rate plummets. Though it may've been a golden deal once, if you haven't switched in a while you're almost certainly earning nowt.
Always check safety.
Remember, these days all UK-regulated savings accounts are protected up to £85,000 per person, per institution. For safety, don't save more than this with any one banking group. See Safe Savings for full details.
Transfer old cash ISAs.
If you've been saving in cash ISAs, don't assume you can't touch them. You've a right to transfer your cash ISA, which can instantly boost your interest. To transfer the cash you'll need to set up an account with a new provider and ask it to transfer the cash across for you. See the Top Cash ISA Transfers guide.
Get back lost Tesco Clubcard vouchers
Family homes have a knack for swallowing paperwork, particularly if it's useful. So if you've ever lost Tesco vouchers (or want to check just in case) you can access the codes online to redeem instantly, or get vouchers re-issued.
You can then exchange vouchers so they're worth up to three times as much via Tesco Clubcard Boost*. This can be a great way to get a family day out, as the scheme includes cinema tickets, theme parks, restaurants, sports and loads more.
It's fast and free to check your account for old vouchers. See the Get Back Lost Tesco Vouchers guide for a full how-to. Some MoneySavers found over £100 of vouchers they didn't know they had. One reports:
Thanks to your article, we found we had nearly £150 of unclaimed Tesco vouchers! We have already used them to double the vouchers' value online, which has been incredibly useful for Christmas.
Should student loans be paid off early?
To help with uni costs, many students take out an official Student Loans Company loan. But it's crucial to realise a loan this cheap shouldn't necessarily be paid off more quickly than necessary. See the Repay My Student Loan? guide to see when it's best to leave it be, plus a nifty tool to calculate how long it'll take to pay off.
Global family travel insurance from £67
If you're jetting off on a well-earned family holiday, having the right travel insurance can be extremely useful if something goes wrong but don't pay over the odds.
You can save £100s a year by choosing the right cover.
Should I cover the family together?
Policies can be for singles, couples or families. Generally, if travelling together, family cover should be cheaper than insuring everyone separately. As a rule of thumb, the fewer people travelling nearer to home the cheaper it'll be, so don't over-cover.
- Find worldwide family cover from £67 a year.
Globetrotting needn't cost the earth. Family cover can start from as little as £27 for travel within Europe. See the best buys in the Travel Insurance guide.
Once you've found the cheapest travel insurance, here are a couple of quick tips to help save even more on family holidays:
Find the cheapest way to spend overseas.
Debit cards can be the worst way to spend, but the right credit card can mean perfect exchange rates that beat even the best bureaux. See Cheap Travel Money for full info, and use the free Travel Money Maximiser tool to quickly find the best holiday cash deals.
Fill yer boots with freebies
Here's one thing that doesn't change as you grow up... the best things in life are freebies! Use the Freebies directory to get loads of everyday items for free, from nappies and pet food to teabags and tissues.
You'll also find sections just for family freebies, free games and indoor entertainment to keep kids busy for nowt.
If you're after something bigger, the Freecycle and Freegle guide explains how to make the most of giveaway sites. These are great if you're looking for free furniture, electricals, baby buggies and more, whilst they're also handy if you're having a clearout. For totally free activity ideas, see Free Museums and Galleries and Free Gym Trials.
Pay off debts BEFORE saving – debts cost more
If you've found yourself with a family nest-egg and debts to pay, this quick tip will drastically improve the health of your finances. If you have both debts and savings you're seriously overspending. Debts usually cost more than savings earn.
Pay off your debts before you start to save and you should be better off in the long run.
For example, if you had £1,000 credit card debt at 18%, the interest would be £180 a year. But £1,000 in a 2% savings account after tax would earn just £20. So pay off the debt with savings and you're £160 a year better off. See the Pay Off Debts With Savings guide for full info.
Don't need it? Won't use it? DON'T buy it!
If you've a family to look after, it's likely your wallet's under more pressure than ever before. So before you buy anything, use these money mantras to help keep your cash in your pocket.
Before spending on anything, even on items found using the eBay Local Deals Mapper, use Martin's money mantras. If you say 'NO' to any, DON'T BUY!
If you're skint, ask
Do I need it?
Can I afford it?
Can I find it cheaper anywhere else?
If you aren't skint, ask
Will I use it?
Is it worth it?
Can I find it cheaper anywhere else?
We've also designed a handy free printable wallet-sized version.
If you still find it difficult to keep cash in your pocket, there are plenty of ways to help. See the Stop Spending guide for info on both pain-free and painful ways to halt your spending. Use the free Demotivator tool to learn the real cost of everyday habits.
Haggle to save £100s on family package hols
Package holidays can be great if your family like going to popular holiday destinations, and they often come with handy extras like kids' clubs to boot.
Plus it's possible to haggle already cheap package holiday late deals by a further 10% using the special technique in the Cheap Package Holidays guide.
One MoneySaver who "had no idea this'd work" reports getting £600 off a Crete holiday just by calling three travel agents. Package holidays can yield huge savings:
As a rough rule of thumb, packages are usually cheapest for seven, 10 or 14 days away in a traditional holiday destination.
In general, the later you book the cheaper it'll be, but the more you'll need to be flexible with dates and destinations. So if crèches or kids' clubs are a must, you may be better off booking as much as nine months in advance instead to get it for less.
DIY breaks: If you're off for a different length to a less visited spot, on a city break, or multi-stop holiday, you'll tend to be better off with a DIY break. See the Cheap Flights and Cheap Hotel guides for more on these.
Get paid for your opinion – from home
If you've stayed home to look after kids, doing online surveys could be a handy little earner. It's possible to earn £100s a year from home, without any special skill or talent, by filling in web surveys and online research.
Some surveys can pay up to £5 for just a few minutes of your time. Find the full list of top picks in the Survey Sites guide, as well as tips 'n' tricks to help you maximise your returns.
Are you in the wrong council tax band?
There's a chance you may be paying too much for your family home's council tax. Scarily, many homes are in the wrong council tax band, and have been since 1993.
The reason? Valuations were done at speed in time for the launch of the new system, so bands were merely allocated with just a drive-by glance.
But in 10 minutes you can check ‘n' challenge your council tax band. Thousands have already tried this and many succeeded in getting £1,000s back. One MoneySaver reports:
Last week got the letter from VOA saying we were being reduced to [band] E effective from when we moved in in August 2000. The refund was £2,369. Money was paid into my account yesterday. Total time less than 4 weeks.
Free high-tech treasure hunts via GPS
If you've a GPS navigation device such as a sat-nav or GPS-equipped mobile phone, you can get instant access to global treasure hunts, known as geocaching. This is a fun, free way to put a smile on kids' faces.
It's a giant high-tech treasure hunt for 'geocaches'. These are boxes filled with tiny treasures, hidden by other geocache fans (we're talking plastic kids' toys, not iPods).
There's a huge online geocaching community. To get started, sign up for a free membership on the Geocaching website, then enter your postcode to find geocaches near you. Enter the co-ordinates of your chosen site on your GPS, and off you go!
Treasures are hidden at spots like waterfalls and parks. Forumers report it's a great way to explore your local area with family.
After you've found one, put it back as you found it. The rules of the game state you can take an item from it if you wish. If you do, leave something of equal or greater value for the next person. See the Geocaching tips forum discussion.
Save money on buying, renting and remortgaging your home
If you're thinking of buying your first family home, the first steps from renting to buying can be daunting.
To help, we've put together a free mortgage guide downloadable PDF for first-time buyers and first-time buy-to-let mortgages. The savings can be huge:
For every 1% you can cut off your mortgage deal, you'll save £1,000 a year on a £100,000 repayment mortgage
There are loads of other tips and tricks to help find your dream home:
Value your house for nowt.
The Free House Price Valuations guide is a goldmine of free online tools to help you work out what your digs are really worth. There's everything from free house price valuers to crime and flood risk assessment, plus how to work out what the neighbours really paid.
Use the essential home-buying checklist.
The House Buying Guide guide has a full checklist of what to look out for when buying a new home, from initial checks and budgeting to completion.
Make your mortgage work harder.
The Remortgage Guide is a free downloadable PDF on how to get the best deal, whether you're moving, consolidating debts or just after a cheaper mortgage.
There's no shame in renting.
We've tricks to help you cut the cost if your family are in rented accommodation, plus safety tips and more in 50 Renting Tips.
Cut home costs with 'old style' tips
Use family talents to cut wedding costs
It's meant to be a fairytale day – but wedding costs are unbelievable too. Of course, we're not saying you need to get married to have a family! But if you or a family member are getting hitched, there's plenty you can do to save.
From the proposal to the honeymoon there are many ways to cut the cost of your nuptials:
Make it a wedding of all the talents.
One way to try and avoid the price-trebling effects of getting married is to use the talents of your friends and family. So if you've a cake-decorating aunt or a flower-arranging cousin, ask them to help with those instead of giving a gift.
Draw up a budget.
Far too many make a dream list of wedding must-haves before considering how they'll pay for them. Instead, work out how much you can afford to spend, then stick with it.
Prioritise your spending.
Once you know how much you've got to spend, list everything you need to budget for in order of priority and cost each accordingly. Include everything from official fees to transport costs.
Pick an unusual date.
Consider choosing an unpopular day for the wedding. Having it on a Friday or Sunday can reduce the cost of the reception (and sometimes ceremony) venue by up to half.
While a wedding is a wonderful dream day, it's important to remember one of the biggest causes of divorce is debt and financial worries. If the cost of your wedding leaves you financially crippled and in debt for most of your married life, it's a pointless waste.
Unused gyms, mags & pay-TV waste £1,000s
Many of us have costly family subscriptions for gyms, mags, packaged bank accounts and more, yet rarely or never use them. With time and house moves, we can even forget about 'em altogether.
It's likely hundreds of millions are wasted this way. The costs can be especially painful if you've unused regular payments set up for family members. Here's an example sent to us via Twitter:
I used to pay £102 a month for a family gym membership for one year, and I only went about five times.
Do your own DIY super-audit. Urgently check your bank statements and cancel anything you don't use. To help, we've put together a step-by-step Cancel Direct Debits guide, with full info on how to spot and stop renegade regular payments.
Do a 60-sec voucher check before you shop
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