The Moneywise team's top saving tips
Times are tough. With inflation high, making everything from groceries to petrol more expensive, our pay cheques simply aren't stretching as far as they used to. Just like the rest of the country, the Moneywise team is feeling the pinch.
So we decided to take some austerity measures of our own. Here's how we got on.
MARK STAMMERS, ART DIRECTOR
"No holiday next year! That seemed a sensible plan in 2010 just after we had returned from two weeks in Florida, but in the cold and snow of early 2011 it suddenly sounded very depressing.
'Perhaps we could afford a week abroad if we really tighten our belts,' suggested my wife. She says I'm easily tempted, but with the kids pleading 'why not?', it was a no-brainer.
Within minutes of the decision the whole family is perusing holiday websites for the best location. Boston USA is chosen, a Virgin Holidays city break package picked, and a deposit is soon winging its way electronically from our credit card.
So the easy bit is done; now comes the difficult part.
The saving regime begins and its first victim is my Monday morning grande latte. It's a ritual that helps me get back into work mode after the weekend, but the coffee is often accompanied by a muffin or pastry, so it all adds up to nearly a fiver. It has to go.
Instead I take a box of cereal to work and use the free tea and coffee in the office. This move saves me over £22 a week.
My lunch also fails to escape the belt-tightening regime. Out goes the shop-bought sandwiches and soups; in come homemade replacements at a fraction of the cost.
Along with my sarnies I usually pick up a can of soft drink at 60p a throw. But by buying supermarket own-brand cans when we do our weekly shop, I can cut the cost to 20p. The cost of drinks and sandwiches for a week has tumbled to little more than £8 a week, saving me £18.
While Monday's budget cuts have proved fairly painless, I now have to face up to losing a few little luxuries. I'm a bit of a gadget geek and own an iPhone and iPad. My iPhone is on a quite expensive tariff - £45 a month.
I call my provider and explain I need to trim costs. Luckily, as I'm half-way through my contract period, I'm allowed to reduce my monthly charge to £25 a month by cutting my minutes and free texts in half.
My phone costs me money in other ways too: I often peruse the app store, looking at the latest games or other fun downloads - and 99p here, £2.99 there soon add up. I only download free apps from now on. That's at least £4 a week saved.
My office is only about a mile from the train station but like many Londoners I jump on the underground to take me three stops closer. By walking each day not only do I save the £10 top-up to my Oyster card each week, but I feel I'm starting to get fitter.
It's time to get tough. Our overpriced but underused family gym membership has to go. It costs nearly £2,000 a year.
While the facilities are top class, including the latest machines, a swimming pool, sauna and jacuzzi, we really only ever used the pool.
Our local community leisure centre has recently been refurbished and has a bigger pool and a newly installed sauna. We can get a family ticket for £9 and could save more if we decide to buy a leisure card. It's a massive saving from our budget.
At the end of a hard week, a trip to the pub with colleagues is called for. Rather than plump for my usual premium bottled lager I check out what specials the pub has to offer. I choose a pint of draught lager - it's nearly half the price of my normal tipple, but tastes just as good.
I'm amazed to see that I've managed to save nearly £170 this week simply by choosing cheaper alternatives. I know I'm unlikely to save that much every week (dropping the gym membership has saved a good deal of that amount), but I now see how easy it is to trim costs without feeling too hard done by. Boston, here we come."
RACHEL LACEY, GROUP PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR
"Baby number two is now well on its way and while I'm excited I can't help but worry about how we'll cope financially - especially while I'm on maternity leave. So over the next few months we're looking to save as much as we can to help us get through what could be a very tight year.
It's hard to reduce the amount I drive, but I can cut how much I spend on parking. It costs me a whopping £6.20 - or £18.60 for my three-day week - to park at the station, so today I've decided to leave a bit early and find a free space.
I find a spot 10 minutes away. OK, so this option does require a bit of effort, but it doesn't add too much to my overall journey time: there's no faffing around with ticket machines and I miss the worst of the traffic.
Today is chores day. It usually involves dragging a frustrated toddler round the supermarket. So in a bid to save money and my sanity I set about an online shop while he naps.
It's a bit fiddly but it forces me to write a list and I'm not so tempted by in-store offers and promotions. My bill is £20 less than usual and we've had no tantrums. A good result all round.
We need to free up our spare bedroom for the baby, so tonight we start sorting through what has become our junk room and take box loads of stuff up to the loft.
While we've no use for much of it, I'm sure others will have, so I'm determined to get to grips with eBay.
We've got a pram we no longer need, loads of clothes and several mobile phones for a start. I've had a look at sale prices for similar items and reckon we should be able to notch up about £200 relatively easily.
Today is my day to catch up with my fellow mums. We take the toddlers to a music class, then have a natter over coffee and cake. A trip to the park is frequently followed by lunch in a child-friendly pub, so all in all it can be a pretty expensive day.
I suggest the mums come to our house for a change - I provide the coffee and a friend brings some treats. I reckon I've easily saved £10.
After a busy week Friday is usually take-away night; we decide to settle for fish and chips from the freezer instead. Our budget option tastes all the better with the knowledge that we've tucked away another £15.
So far, I've cut my spending by over £63 - and may make £200 on eBay. If we can carry on like this, we won't feel the pinch nearly so much when baby number two arrives."
REBECCA RUTT, EDITORIAL ASSISTANT
"With four years of student debt, a career development loan, student overdraft and a credit card, trying to pay off my mountain of debt is hard, especially when living in London on a new graduate's salary. But student life has taught me how to live on the cheap and hunt down a bargain, so I'm ready for the challenge.
I start the week by getting a money diary in which I intend to write down every thing I buy. I also get up slightly earlier to make my own lunch, saving around £3 a day, and walk to work (when it isn't raining), saving £5 a day.
Supermarkets knock down prices on fresh produce at the end of the day, so I go to one near closing time and managed to both save a lot and stock up for the week. I cook several portions of lasagne and freeze them for a couple of evening meals or to take into work as lunch.
Things get harder when I'm out for the evening, but there are thousands of voucher websites around and I use these to cut the cost. Dinner at Pizza Express (free dough balls and a 2-for-1 main meal) and a 2-for-1 cinema tickets make for a fun but cheap night out.
I register my young person's railcard today to get a third off Oyster and train travel, and switch to a weekly season ticket rather than paying on the day.
After work I meet my friends for discount cocktails: it's cheaper than going for a drink at the weekend. I also make sure to leave my cards at home so when the cash runs out I have to simply stop spending.
I invite friends over for a meal (I still have some lasagne left) and a game of poker. We have a good time, and we all save money - the skilled players even make a bit.
In total, I've managed to save about £100 over the week. It's always hard saving money, but I know in the long run if I ever want to be debt-free, I need to watch my spending and learn to be a bit more frugal."
An overdraft is an agreement with your bank that authorises you to withdraw more funds from your account than you have deposited in it. Many banks charge for this privilege either as a fixed fee or charge interest on the money overdrawn at a special high rate. Some banks charge a fee and interest. And other banks offer a free overdraft but impose very high charges for exceeding the agreed limit of your overdraft.
An increase in the general level of prices that persists over a period of time. The inflation rate is a measure of the average change over a period, usually 12 months. If inflation is up 4%, this means the price of products and services is 4% higher than a year earlier, requiring we spend and extra 4% to buy the same things we bought 12 months ago and that any savings and investments must generate 4% (after any taxes) to keep pace with inflation. Since 2003, the Bank of England has used the consumer prices index (CPI) as its official measure of inflation (see also retail prices index).
Used by the holder to buy goods and services, credit cards also have a monthly or annual spending limit, which may be raised or lowered depending on the creditworthiness of the cardholder. But unlike charge cards, borrowers aren’t forced to pay the balance off in full every month and, as long as they make a stated minimum payment, can carry a balance from one month to the next, generating compound interest. As the issuing company is effectively giving you a short-term loan, most credit cards have variable and relatively high interest rates. Allowing the interest to compound for too long may result in dire financial straits.