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10 Feb 2022

Seven easy ways to save money this winter

How to cut spending on energy, food, car repairs and more
Man in a coat turning down a thermostat in his hou

Winter can be financially draining. Vehicle problems, inefficient heating, seasonal ailments, and unexpected injuries to pets are just a handful of reasons you might be left out of pocket.

But with the cost of living also rising exponentially, causing concern for households across the country, finding ways to save money has never been more important.

Here are seven quick ways to cut costs and avoid unnecessary pay-outs this winter.

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1. Check your heating is working efficiently

Boiler services and repairs should be done by a professional gas engineer but carrying out basic maintenance yourself could save you a call-out fee - and shave pounds off your fuel bills

  • Set your heating to the right temperature. The NHS recommends heating your home to at least 18°c. If your thermostat is set any higher, consider reducing the temperature to save money. The Energy Saving Trust estimates that lowering your heating by just one degree could save you as much as £75 a year.
  • Make sure your radiators are heating up. If they're heating up unevenly or not at all, you might need to bleed your radiators or balance your system. If not fixed, both problems can cause you to whack up the thermostat and drive up your bills. Find out how to balance and bleed your radiators.
  • Check your boiler's system pressure. If it's too low, it can affect the efficiency of your heating system which means you may end up paying higher heating bills. Generally, the gauge should read between 1.0 and 2.0 bar but check your boiler's manual to confirm. You can re-pressurise the system yourself by opening the filling loop taps until the pressure rises (you'll hear the water entering the central heating system as you do this) then closing them again.
  • Install a new boiler. While this may cost more money upfront, upgrading from a G-rated gas boiler to an A-rated condensing model could save you £195 a year. That's according to the Energy Saving Trust for a typical semi. If you live in a detached home, you could save £300. See all our boiler reviews.
  • Choose the best electric heater for your needs. A fan or halogen heater can provide a short blast of heat, but these can be dear if you keep them running for a while. For longer heatingopt for a convector (oil-filled radiator) instead - it will warm the whole room evenly and retain more heat. See more on how to use an electric heater frugally.

How to keep your heating costs down - get more expert advice and find out when it's worth calling out an engineer.

2. Learn how to thaw a frozen boiler pipe

If the outside temperature drops below zero and your boiler suddenly stops working, your boiler condensate discharge pipe (the pipe that usually runs outside your house from your boiler and into an external drain) might have frozen.

To save on the cost of a call-out, try defrosting the pipe yourself. Watch the video below for step-by-step guidance.

  • Boil the kettle and leave it to cool for 10-15 minutes
  • Pour the warm water over the external discharge pipe
  • Reset your boiler.

To prevent it happening again, insulate the pipe with waterproof and UV-resistant coated material.

Still got boiler issues? We reveal the most common boiler problems and repair costs. If it's not repairable, see our best boilers for 2022.

3. Reduce damp and condensation in your home

During the colder months, a mixture of having the central heating on and warm air condensing on cool walls can create the perfect storm for damp conditions, resulting in condensation and mould. However, a few simple hacks could stop damp in its tracks and save you thousands in repairs.

  • Keep your bathroom as dry as possible. Mould loves bathrooms because the conditions are often wet, warm and, sometimes, dark, and it can cause cracked tile grout and subsequent wall damage if you don't tackle it or keep it at bay. Prevent mould forming by hanging up wet towels and bathmats to dry and making sure your extractor is working properly. Plus, keep an eye on the seal around your bath or shower - if it starts to peel, replace it.
  • Increase ventilation. Always use your extractor fan if you have one and make sure your house gets regularly aired by opening your windows and vents at least once a day. This is especially important if you're drying wet clothes indoors.
  • Invest in a dehumidifier. A good dehumidifier will draw excess moisture from the air, preventing damp conditions that favour mould growth. A dehumidifier won't get rid of existing mould, but it can stop it spreading or developing in the first place. When running a dehumidifier, keep the windows shut so damp air isn't drawn in from outside. You should also use your appliance's timer or automatic shut-off to prevent it running continuously and wasting energy.

See our dehumidifier reviews. Or head to our guide for more advice on how to get rid of damp and prevent it damaging your home.

4. Dig out your winter cooking appliances

Winter is the perfect time for some freezer-filling batch cooking using a slow cooker, pressure cooker or soup maker. Batch cooking is a great way to economise on 'value' bags of winter veg, while braising and stewing can make cheaper cuts of meat taste great.

Slow cookers and pressure cookers can also be a more energy efficient way of cooking. For example, if you roast meat in a slow cooker, it'll use an average of 246W of power compared to the 700W used by the average oven.

You don't need to spend a fortune buying the appliances either - some of the best slow cookers and soup makers we've tested cost as little as £30.

Find out how best to cook different meats, and how your new slow cooker can help you save money and effort at mealtimes.

5. Look after pets in cold weather

Prevent costly visits to the vet by making sure your pets are kept safe and well during the colder months. Here are some of the winter hazards to watch out for.

  • Check your car for sleeping cats. Wheel arches or a warm car bonnet can attract cold kitties, so the RSPCA suggests tapping your car bonnet and checking the wheels and tops of the tyres before you start your engine up and drive off.
  • Beware of antifreeze and de-icer. Eating even the smallest amount of antifreeze can result in kidney failure and death in pets. The main ingredient in antifreeze - usually propylene glycol or ethylene glycol - gives it a sweet taste that can be very tempting so be sure to clear away any spills when you're topping your car up. Antifreeze poisoning symptoms - including vomiting and appearing drunk and uncoordinated - can appear within 30 minutes. If you suspect poisoning, get them to the vet as quickly as possible
  • Clean rock salt off their paws. Your pet's paws could be irritated by salt and grit used to prevent roads and pavements becoming slippery. As well as washing their paws when they come into the house, the PDSA suggests applying a thin layer of paw butter to help prevent them cracking.

If you haven't got pet insurance or your policy is up for renewal, see our best and worst pet insurance to find out the companies we recommend.

6. Save on winter medicines

When common winter ailments strike, it's tempting to load up on an army of expensive, branded remedies but there are cheaper solutions available that are just as effective.

  • Buy generic rather than branded. Branded formulations can cost nearly five times as much but work in the same way as cheaper, own-brand or generic varieties. You'll also find supermarkets or discount stores sell medicines at lower prices.
  • Try kitchen cupboard remedies. There is some evidence that a spoonful of honey dissolved in warm water is actually more effective than medicated products for reducing the frequency and severity of a cough. While, a sucking sweet paired with a painkiller is said to be just as effective as a packet of medicated lozenges, and it will save you some money.
  • Speak to your pharmacist. Your local pharmacy is a good first port of call if you or a family member feels poorly. Their wealth of knowledge can help you to find both cheap and effective remedies to suit your needs.

Discover the cheapest places to buy cold and flu remedies.

Sign up for our free Food & Health newsletter. Keep up to date with our monthly seasonal health tips and product reviews.

7. Learn basic car maintenance and repairs

Although it's important to keep your car in good nick whatever the time of year, it's particularly crucial when it's cold. Regular maintenance and learning a couple of basic skills will not only help you avoid paying out for repairs, recovery and fines but will also keep you safer on the roads.

Essential winter DIY vehicle checks

The RAC suggests using the acronym 'forces' to remember the regular DIY vehicle checks you should carry out over winter - especially if an icy blast is forecast.

Fuel. Check you have plenty for your journey and pack an empty fuel can - running out could result in paying a pricey call-out fee.

Oil. Check the level is between minimum and maximum on your car's dipstick and top up if needed to avoid the risk of breaking down or major engine damage.

Rubber. Tyres should be free from cracks, splits and bulges, and ideally have 3mm of tread during the winter to help with grip and traction. Wiper blades can freeze to the screen so lift them off before switching them on, or place plastic or card between the blades and the glass to stop them sticking in the first place.

Coolant. Levels in your car's expansion tank should be between the minimum and maximum marks but don't remove the filler cap to top up unless the engine is cold.

Electrics. Lights should be working and kept clean on a regular basis for maximum visibility. Check that battery terminals are clean and tight and have your battery checked if the car labours on ignition.

Screen wash. Top up your screen wash reservoir with screen wash that is effective down to at least -15°c. Remember to keep topping up throughout the winter as there'll be more dirt on the road in addition to salt.

Find out how to save fuel and other money-saving driving tips.

How to jump start your car

According to our annual Which? car survey a flat battery and a puncture (or other tyre problems) are the two most common reasons for car breakdowns in the UK - and a hefty 47% of these happen right on your doorstep.

Unfortunately, breakdown providers are well aware of this, which is why they usually charge extra if your car won't start at home. So, it's good to know what to do if either issue crops up.

Watch our video for guidance on how to jump start your car safely, or take a look at our best car breakdown providers to find a policy that covers you at home.

The same goes for a flat tyre - see our guidance on how to change a tyre or use a repair kit.