This content originally appeared in the MSE weekly email on 29 September 2015.
Don't be fooled by some bursts of autumn sun – darkest winter is coming. So dust off your long johns, dig out your woolly hat and snuggle down with our checklist to keep costs down and the heat up.
1. Is it REALLY cheaper to leave the heating on low all day? With many turning on the central heating now, we reveal the arguments (it's not always clear-cut) and 15 more common energy-use conundrums – eg, should you turn the boiler on and off or paint radiators black? See the verdicts in Energy Mythbusters.
2. Find where your stop 'male chicken' is. (If we used the correct term, this'd go to your spam box). Everyone should know where their stop-thingy (rhymes with lock – the mains water off-switch) is. Frozen pipe bursts create an avg £4k of damage, worse if you can't find the off switch as your home floods. See how to turn your water off.
3. Free 'learn to prep your car for winter' lesson. Halfords is running lessons at 400ish stores UK-wide on Mon 12 Oct, incl how to check oil, wiper blades and lights. Places are extremely limited so see Free Winter Motor Workshop for how to book now. Plus Halfords is now running its free £15 winter car checks. Also see our Pre-Winter Motoring Checklist for much more.
4. Save £250+ on energy bills. Switch energy ASAP so you're sorted before the high use period - it normally takes 17 days. It's no big deal – it's the same pipes, gas, meter & safety. The only difference is price and cust service. Plug your details into our Cheap Energy Club to find your cheapest - it includes pros & cons for each tariff.
Savings can be huge. About 70% are on their provider's standard tariff - across the big six this is an average £1,095/yr based on typical usage. Yet the cheapest variable deal is a typical £831/yr, the cheapest fix a typical £840/yr. Barry tweeted: "@MartinSLewis switching today, estimated £400 saving per year. Thanks MSE." Also check Prepayment Meter switching if you're on one.
5. Switch energy now and you could get £100s back. If you pay by direct debit it's likely you're in credit after the low-use summer. Most providers give it back automatically, but if they don't, ask.
If you've switched in the past five years, your old supplier may still owe you too. Our Reclaim Energy Bill Credit guide shows you how to get it.
6. Loyal to British Gas? At least switch to BG-run Sainsbury's Energy to possibly save £180/yr. See BG vs Sainsbury's for a full explanation.
7. Paying energy by monthly direct debit is cheaper. You pay up to 6% less. Firms estimate your annual usage and divide by 12 so you're likely to build up credit after summer and be a little in debt after winter.
Always do regular meter readings for accuracy, as your bill is estimated. And if they try to push your direct debit up unfairly (eg, you're heavily in credit), you've a right for it to be fair. See our Direct Debit Rights guide for what to do.
8. Full service car breakdown cover £41, basic for £16 – and if you're renewing, haggle, haggle, haggle. Problems are more likely in winter, the consequences more severe.
For breakdown, home start and onward travel cover, AutoAid charges £41/yr, though it sends a truck, you pay, then you reclaim. For a 'man with a van' policy, the cheapest full service is Kwik Fit*: European cover for £50/yr (£93/yr if your car is 6+ yrs old).
For basic policies you can (after cashback) get RAC basic cover for £16 or AA for £22 (full deals in Cheap Breakdown Cover).
Finally, if you've got cover and are at renewal, HAGGLE – 84% of AA and 78% of RAC customers who tried got lower their rates in our most recent poll. Graham emailed: "Thanks for the haggling tips. Got my RAC renewal slashed from £252 to £151." See Breakdown Cover Haggling.
9. More bedrooms than people? You could save £100s on water. Live in Eng or Wales? If your home has more or the same no of bedrooms as people, it's likely you'll save fitting a water meter.
Our water savings guide has full help, incl calculators, tips, what to do if you're not allowed a meter and more. Paul tweeted: "Big thanks to @MartinSLewis – got 1st water bill since getting water meter and I've gone from £55/mth to £15/mth."
10. Free loft/cavity wall insulation, open to all. Energy firms face sanctions if they don't meet Eco quotas, so some, eg, British Gas, give free insulation to anyone in England, Scotland or Wales with a suitable home (you don't have to be their customer or on a low income). See which firms offer FREE insulation and to whom.
The savings can be huge; the Energy Saving Trust estimates you'll see a reduction in bills of £300/yr compared with a typical uninsulated home. On average it takes 3-4 weeks to book a survey and a further two weeks for insulation to be fitted (though it can be more).
Rachel tweeted us: "Lovely new FREE loft insulation has been fitted today from @BritishGas. Thanks to your website.”
11. Stay toasty with a sausage dog. Sometimes the best way to hunker down is to keep it low–tech. Swap tips with forum Old-Stylers on getting ready thriftily in the Winter Prep thread. They’ve a wealth of wisdom including DIY sausage dog draft excluders, Canadian quilts and even fridge magnets on keyholes.
12. Are you entitled to any extra winter help? Winter is a tough time for many as the cold sets in. But there are funds which may help...
a) Winter fuel payments. If you were born on or before 5 Jan 1953 (and met other qualifying criteria throughout the week commencing 21 Sep 15), you're eligible for the up-to-£300 winter fuel payment. If you get certain benefits, eg, state pension, pension credit or jobseeker's allowance, you'll usually get it automatically, otherwise you may have to claim. See Winter Fuel Payments for full info.
b) Cold weather payments. Anyone on certain benefits, eg, specific income support/jobseeker's allowance/pension credit, gets £25 for every 7 days it's sub-zero. It's paid automatically from 1 Nov this year. Full details: Cold Weather Payments.
c) Choosing between heating and eating? If you're seriously behind, or in general financial hardship, you may be eligible for special tariffs/help. Try the Home Heat Helpline on 0800 33 66 99 and also our Housing & Energy Grants & Debt Help guides.