The seven top MoneySaving tricks and tips I learned in seven years at MSE

This week, after seven years, almost 400 weekly emails, three general elections, Brexit and a pandemic, I’m hanging up my MoneySavingExpert boots. I’ve learned lots as a journalist here, but even more about saving money, so before I go, I wanted to share some of my favourite tips - the ones I tell people about when they ask what I do, then ask the inevitable follow-up…

Currently MSE’s news and investigations editor, I’ve worked on pretty much every part of the site at some point, from our Brexit guide to pothole claims, coronavirus travel rights to frankly bizarre stories about Ryanair. It’s been a blast, and alongside having some great colleagues, covering fascinating stories and yes, getting to work with Martin, a major perk has been getting to learn about how to actually save money.

When I joined MSE, I had plenty of journalistic experience to offer - but when it came to sorting my own finances, frankly, I didn’t have much of a clue. Asked in my interview to explain my choice of bank, I’m afraid to say I sort of shrugged and explained it was the same bank I’d opened an account with as a kid. Yet there’s no better way to learn about MoneySaving than to read and write about it every day while surrounded by people who live and breathe it, so the last few years have been an education.

What follows, then, are my favourite MoneySaving tricks and tips. They’re not necessarily the most obvious, or the ones which will save you the most money, or even the most original. But they’re my personal takeaways, the tricks I’ll remember, and the ones I’ve wheeled out over the years when people have asked what I do, quizzed me about Martin, then added, “So, got any tips then?”

Note - this was far from an easy list to compile and some great contenders didn't quite make the cut - eg, paying less for big brand car hire by booking on a firm's foreign website, how to get a free selfie at No 10, and the late lamented (and MSE staff favourite) Job Spotter app. Let me know which gems I've missed in the comments.

1. The ‘buy more to pay less’ delivery trick

Saving: £1-£2 a time

Like all the best MoneySaving tricks, this is simple, but clever.

If you’re buying something online, always check what the free delivery threshold is – if what you’re buying is just under, then add something small to get you over the threshold, and you pay less overall plus get the extra thing. I’ve done this a few times and it’s always satisfying – see how it works in practice, plus with Amazon there’s actually a tool to help you find cheap items.

2. The ‘pack bubblewrap and Sellotape’ holiday trick

Saving: £100s over the years

It’s been a while since I’ve had the chance to use this one, what with overseas travel being a fingers-crossed affair at the moment. But with three young kids, this has saved me a small fortune on summer holidays.

The trick here is to shun car hire firms’ costly child car seats – at £5+ a day, these can easily add £100+ to a holiday if you’re taking two or more for a couple of weeks. Instead, take your own. Many airlines let you travel with them for free, often with a pushchair as well, on top of your usual luggage allowance, and the only difficulty is lugging them through the airport and making sure they arrive in good condition. Which is where the bubblewrap and Sellotape come in. Full info and, er, wrapping tips in my Pack bubblewrap and Sellotape blog.  

3. Get paid to shop online

Earnings: £500+

Cashback sites have been around for donkey’s years, of course, so this is a far from original concept – but if, like pre-MSE me, you’ve never used one, they can be a gamechanger.

Simply sign up to one or more sites (personally I’ve used Topcashback and Kidstart, but we’ve full pros and cons for all the biggies in our Top Cashback Sites guide), then check if cashback’s available EVERY time you make an online purchase. Of course, it’s never guaranteed and sometimes there can be tracking issues, but as a rule it works - I reckon my earnings have topped £500 in the time I’ve been at MSE, largely due to decent cashback on holiday bookings, plus Kidstart at one point (sadly, no more) offering rare cashback on all Amazon purchases.

4. The ‘book the wrong date on Easyjet’ trick

Saving (back in 2014): £431

OK, this one’s the odd one out, in that it no longer works. But I’m including it anyway for sentimental reasons, as it was my first meaningful contribution to the MoneySaving canon and my first blog for the site back in 2014.

In a nutshell, the idea was to beat the inevitable hikes in flight prices during the school holiday by booking an Easyjet Flexifare ticket – at the time, though no longer, these let you switch dates by a few weeks without paying anything extra. So the trick was to book cheap term-time flights, then swap for your chosen school holiday dates.

It was a bit fiddly, and a bit risky, but when it worked (as it did for me on flights to Sardinia) it was a MoneySaving hole in one. Thanks to changes in Flexifare T&Cs, it’s sadly now defunct. But one for MSE’s Hall of Fame.

5. Switch EVERYTHING – energy, broadband, insurance & more

Saving: £1,000s

This is less trick, more mantra, but if there’s one key lesson I’ll take from seven years at MSE, it’s that loyalty almost NEVER pays. We bang on incessantly about doing comparisons and checking if you can save by switching providers and it’s for good reason – it’s the single simplest way to slash all sorts of bills, and all it requires is setting aside a bit of time and forcing yourself to do it.

No, using comparison sites is nobody’s idea of fun and (though some MSE colleagues might argue differently), comparing energy deal small print has limited entertainment value. But treat it as work, and it’s transformative. If you’re wondering where to start, see our Money Makeover guide.

6. Flog your old loo roll tubes, and all sorts of other rubbish

Earnings: 6p per loo roll tube (no, really)

I’ll be honest, this one I’ve never done. But it’s the one people always most enjoy hearing about, and clever, and genuinely entirely doable, so I’ll include it anyway.

Thanks to the magic of eBay, you can find a willing buyer for almost anything in your home, even if it’s sitting in the recycling – coat hangers, jam jars, empty perfume bottles, buttons, corks and of course loo roll tubes. Not everyone will take it to extremes and make £2,500 selling crisp packets, of course, but as eBay’s sales listings testify, 100s of bundles of what’s essentially rubbish are sold each month. Full info in Flog your rubbish for cash.

7.And finally, if you do just one MoneySaving thing… budget, budget, BUDGET

Saving: Er, priceless

In a meeting at MSE Towers once upon a time, back in the days when we had meetings at MSE Towers and not just virtually, one of MSE’s most accomplished, veteran MoneySavers made a passing comment which stuck with me: “Of course, the most important MoneySaving thing you can do is to have a proper budget...”

Of course, she was right. While all the 100s of tricks we have on the site will help you save or earn cash, only doing a proper, grown-up, regularly-updated budget - which covers everything and factors in all those tricky one-off costs - will help you master your money. It seems obvious to say that when you really know what you spend you can work out where to save, but it’s true.

It took me a few years at MSE to properly tackle this, but when I did, it was a game-changer. I ended up using the You Need A Budget tool, which is excellent but pricey, but you don’t need to pay – MSE has its own free Budget Planner and there are lots of free alternatives out there. The key is to do it, to keep doing it and to make it a habit not a chore.

Once I’d got the hang of it, I found it made managing money almost, well, boring, which is no bad thing – after all, excitement is not really something you crave when it comes to paying utility bills. It takes away any element of surprise, helps you plan ahead, and above all, gives peace of mind. It can also help make those big, tricky, life-altering decisions (‘should I take the job?’, ‘can we afford to move?’, ‘how many kids should we try for?’) a bit more straightforward.

So the best MoneySaving tip I can offer, whether you’re struggling at the moment, rolling in savings or somewhere in between, is this - if you don’t already budget, start.