It's Christmas week. If you're off work (or bored at it), stuffed with turkey, and desperate to avoid the relatives...
1. Urgent. Beat train and Tube fare season-ticket hikes. Most prices rise on Sat (2 Jan), but buy before then and you pay 2015 prices in 2016 (it's nearly always cheaper, though check). This can save big, eg, a year's Cheltenham Spa to London is going up by £96.
If you're due to renew, to pay 2015 prices the ticket start date must be 1 Jan or earlier. Some ticket offices are shut on 1 Jan though, so do it earlier if you can. Full help & how to check savings in Cheap Train Season Tickets, plus more cost-cutting tips in Cheap Train Tickets.
2. Return your unwanted pressies – if you can. Not keen on that Justin Bieber CD? Don't assume you can take it back. Unless faulty (see Martin's SAD FART rules for the definition of faulty), you've no legal right to return store-bought goods. Many stores do allow it though, so ask with a smile, and if they offer owt, eg, an exchange or credit note, you're doing well.
If something's faulty, the retailer can't refuse to take it back & must refund, fix or replace it – return it ASAP. Yet only the buyer has rights (barring gift receipts which transfer these). So for stickler shops, enlist the buyer's help. See our full Xmas Return Rights guide.
Bought online? You've up to 14 days to say you're sending it back and another 14 days to return it. For who pays what delivery see our full online return rights info.
3. Mega Jan sales, eg, Debenhams & House of Fraser up to 70% off, Next from 50% off, John Lewis up to 50% off. The sales are in full swing, with many retailers adding new lines or boosting their sales, incl Asos, Selfridges & H&M. See our full January sales round-up.
4. Switch your gran. It's a national disgrace that many elderly people pay £100s more for gas & electricity fuel than they should. So if you're visiting your gran, gramps, uncle, aunt or just know a chap over the road who's not confident online and trusts you, why not help switch 'em to a cheap energy tariff as a late Xmas present? If they're sat on a standard tariff, they could save £300/yr. Do a comparison for them via our Cheap Energy Club or see the full Switch Your Gran guide.
Make sure you do a meter reading at this time of year too. It's been a warm winter so far, and if your direct debit is based on last year's usage, you could be due a refund. See our Lower Energy Direct Debits guide.
5. Shiny new mobile for Xmas? Make £100s flogging your old handset to the BEST payer... Old handsets or tablets can be worth cold hard cash, yet different buying firms give vastly different prices, eg, for an LG G4 the best pays £145, the worst pays £100. Our Who pays most for your old mobile tool reveals where you can earn the most cash, eg, iPhone 6 16GB £265 and Samsung S6 32GB £198. Plus if you've owt else to get rid of, see our eBay Selling, Facebook Selling and Freecycle guides.
6. Slash the cost of insurance for a new mobile – get it from just £35/year. Our Cheap Mobile Insurance guide takes you through whether you need insurance, and the different types to see if they're right for you. If you do, our top picks on price (with reasonable, if not all-singing feedback) are...
- All iPhones incl 6S Plus (up to £900). Insurance2Go* (with MSEIPHONE code) is £70/yr (£50 accident excess/£75 loss).
- Samsung & other smartphones (up to £875). Insurance2Go* (with MSE5 code) is £70/yr (£75 accident/theft excess/£75 loss).
- Others (£250 max). Gadget Cover* from £35/yr breakage/theft (£45 incl loss) with little feedback.
More than one mobile? For £10/mth the Nationwide Flexplus* account covers ALL the family's smartphones, plus offers world family travel insurance (max age 74) & Euro breakdown cover. Full info: Best Packaged Accounts.
8. Been bitching about your bank in 2015? Teach it a lesson and earn £150. Stop bitching, start switching. If you haven't switched in 2015 and don't regularly sing your bank's praises, why not take the £100+ some will pay you to move? It now only takes seven working days to switch and 82% of you tell us you found it easy – only 4% had problems. Here are the top pick free cash accounts.
- Free £150 & top customer service. 92% rate First Direct's* service 'great', plus it has a £250 0% overdraft & a 6% linked regular savings account. You need to 'pay in' £1,000/mth to it – equiv to an income of £13,200/yr. We've heard of some browsers showing a £125 bonus – if this happens for you, clear your cache or try a different browser.
- Free £100 and £5 every month. Halifax* pays £100 for switching, then £5 every month you stay in credit – do avoid its overdraft though. You need to 'pay in' £750/mth to it – equiv to an annual income of £9,150.
- Free £120 to switch. HSBC* pays £120 for switching to its Bank Account. You get access to its 4% linked regular saver too. You need to 'pay in' £500/mth to it – equiv to an annual income of £6,000.
- Free £100 M&S gift card – and no need to pay in each month. M&S Bank* gives a £100 gift card for switching, plus access to its 6% linked regular saver. It's good if you've irregular pay, as there's no monthly min pay-in.
Full options (and eligibility info) in Best Bank Accounts, incl top deals for savers and those overdrawn.
9. 10p Dairy Milk snowman, 30p Cadbury selection box, 50p Toblerone, £1.80 Black Magic box – can you find super-cheap chocs? Stores are now trying to flog stock they didn't shift at Christmas on the cheap – we've rounded up the best bargains. See our Deals Hunters blog.
10. Annoyed with your broadband provider, shop screwed you over, want to claim flight delays? Use the time. This is the perfect time to sit down and do all those jobs you've not got round to. A big one is often complaining, and if you're put off and don't know where to start, we now work with the free Resolver complaining tool*. It explains your rights, drafts a letter, monitors replies & escalates it to ombudsmen for you, with 20,000+ firms, incl retailers, banks & energy companies.
Plus we now use our expertise with its technology to make complaining easier in our Flight Delays, Reclaim Packaged Bank Accounts and Reclaim CreditExpert guides, and feedback's usually strong, eg, forumite Nodding Donkey writes: "After Ryanair said we couldn't, submitted a claim through Resolver on Sun. On Tue it agreed to pay £590." See full Resolver info.
11. Make an appointment with a debt counsellor ASAP. If your non-mortgage, non-student loan debts are bigger than six months' after-tax income, or you can't meet your minimum repayments, or you're having sleepless nights over it, then a non-profit debt counselling agency is the place to turn. Yet sadly they get rammed in January, so if you're going to do it, book your appointment now to ensure you're seen.
Citizens Advice, StepChange, National Debtline or, if you're struggling emotionally too, CAP. Full info in Debt Crisis Help. Remember, these agencies are there to help, not judge. The most common thing we hear after is: "I finally got a good night's sleep."
12. And finally... take the test to find out HOW TIGHT ARE YOU? Our tongue-in-cheek How Tight Are You? quiz shows whether your spending rivals Manchester City's, or you open your wallet so rarely it's not moths that appear but pterodactyls.
This article first appeared in the weekly email on 30 December 2015.