Savings rates are plummeting and inflation is stubbornly high, which makes life tough for savers. There are currently no standard accounts that beat tax and inflation, so the only hope is to open an Isa. You can put up to £5640 into a cash Isa in the current tax year and the best deals include Coventry Building Society's 60-day notice Isa at 3.10% or a cash Isa from Saga that is fixed for three years at 2.75%.
A number of credit cards pay cashback every time you spend, so you can earn money while you shop. The cashback card from Sainsbury's Bank, for example, pays up to 5% cashback in the first three months of using the card. The standard rate of cashback is 1%. The Cashback Everyday Card from American Express also pays 5% for the first three months. The standard rates range from 0.5% to 1.25% depending on how much you spend. Just make sure you clear your balance in full every month or you will soon pay more in interest charges than you earn in cashback.
Join a cashback website
If you are unwilling or unable to take out a cashback credit card, try a cashback website, such as Quidco or TopCashback. You can then earn cashback every time you shop through the website. Just watch out for registration fees – and don't let the cashback tempt you into unnecessary purchases.
Borrow money for free
A number of credit cards charge 0% on purchases or balance transfers – and if you're clever, can work like an interest-free loan. For example, you pay no interest for 24 months on balance transfers with the Barclaycard Platinum card, although there is a balance transfer fee of 3.20%. If you want to spend on your card, Halifax charges 0% on purchases for 17 months. Let's say you take out the Halifax card to shop in the new year sales. As long as you pay off the balance before the 0% deal expires, you can borrow the money for nothing. Alternatively, shift an existing balance from another card or cards to the Barclaycard deal, and you effectively take out a two-year interest-free loan.
Don't pay full price
Canny consumers need never pay full price again if they make good use of discount codes and vouchers. Websites such as myvouchercodes.co.uk, discountvouchers.co.uk, moneysupermarket.com and moneysavingexpert.com give you discount vouchers for a wide range of goods and services from designer handbags to restaurant meals. They also usually offer a round-up of all the latest deals on the high street.
Overpay your mortgage
Interest rates are at an all-time low, which is bad news for savers, but good news for borrowers. If you can afford to pay a little extra off your mortgage each month, you could save thousands of pounds in interest and cut the term of the loan. Let's say you have a £100,000 mortgage over 25 years at 4.5%. If you overpay the loan by just £50 a month, you would save £10,651 over the lifetime of the mortgage and cut the term by three years and six months, according to figures by L&C Mortgages, a broker. However, first make sure there are no penalty fees for early repayment, which could outweigh the potential savings.
Take out a loyalty card
Most shops these days, including Tesco, Boots and the Co-op, run some sort of loyalty scheme. They usually cost nothing to join but can reap attractive rewards. The most generous Boots Advantage Card allows you to collect four points for every £1 you spend in store or online. One point is worth 1p and you can use your points to pay for your shopping. The store also frequently runs special offers and gives bonus points to Advantage Card customers.
Switch energy supplier
THE big six energy suppliers have all recently announced price hikes, heralding higher bills in the new year. E.ON was the final firm to increase prices, with an average 8.7% rise in the cost of gas and electricity from January 18. Experts also warn of possible further price hikes and stress the importance of switching to a cheaper deal – and fixing your tariff. EDF Energy's Blue+ Price Promise June 2014 is one of the best-value fixes on the market, and costs £1182 per year for a typical household. Anyone switching from a standard deal could save about £250 per year, according to Moneysupermarket.com.
Complete your tax return
Yes, it's that time of year again. The deadline for your self-assessment tax return for 2011-12 is January 31. If you are late, you face an automatic penalty of £100.
You might also have to make a payment by the end of the month, too – and fines for late payment of tax can quickly mount up.
Pay down your credit card
Credit card firms demand a minimum payment each month, typically either 3% of your bill or £5, whichever is greater. Of course it's tempting to pay only the minimum, especially when there are so many demands on your cash. But it could take you many years to clear your debt because the minimum payment falls in line with your debt balance. For example, it would take 17 years to clear a debt of £3000 on a card with an APR of 16% if you made only the minimum payment of 3% each month. And the longer you remain in debt, the more you pay in interest.