How to save on everyday expenses

Simple steps to save cash on household costs.

Supermarket shopper checks items off her grocery list.

Many households have taken a financial hit from the Covid-19 lockdown.

If you’re looking for ways to ease the pain on your wallet, everyday expenses are a good place to start.

Food and grocery costs

Most of us spend the bulk of our food budget at the supermarket and the stores are experts in tempting us to buy.

How can you save?

1. Look for the unit price

Shopping by unit price could cut more than 10% off your grocery bill. The unit price shows the cost per 100 gram or ml, so you can see at a glance whether a big box of something is better value than a small one.

Woman looking at unit pricing at supermarket.
Unit prices let you quickly compare the value of different products – and can help you work out if a special offer is actually more expensive than a non-discounted price.

One study found shoppers who used the unit price to compare products regularly saved 13% on their grocery bill. That’s $26 on a $200 weekly supermarket shop – $1352 over a year.

Unit prices can also help you decipher if a special offer is really all that special. The product advertised on “special” may work out to be more expensive than one you normally buy.

2. Don’t assume bigger is better value

Buying bigger sizes and heading for the bulk bins isn't always going to save you money. Gram for gram, bulk bin prices can sometimes be higher than those for packaged goods.

There’s also the waste issue to consider. Buying bigger packs makes sense when there are real savings. But it's a false economy stocking up on items you're not going to use and may end up throwing out.

3. Shop with a list

Make a list and stick to it. It’s the best way to avoid temptation and stick to your budget.

Insurance

Insurance is a growing household expense. Over the past decade, the cost of home insurance has risen 155% and contents cover by more than 40%.

Here are our top three tips.

1. Don’t set and forget

There are doubtless other things you’d rather do than review your insurance. But regularly assessing your cover and the risks you need to insure could save you hundreds of dollars a year.

Our latest survey of car insurance found you could save more than $400 a year on comprehensive cover by switching.

For example, if you have life insurance the amount of cover you need when you have a young family and a sizable mortgage will be much different to what you need when the kids have left home and the mortgage is nearly repaid. Making sure your cover matches your circumstances means you won’t be needlessly paying extra premiums.

2. Compare prices

When you get your annual renewal notice, check if you could save by switching companies. Get at least three quotes. Our latest survey of car insurance found you could save more than $400 a year on comprehensive cover by switching.

Check your policy to see what you’re getting for your money. Pay close attention to the exclusions – the things that aren’t covered – to help weigh up whether you’re getting a good deal.

Tip: When changing insurers, don't cancel your old cover until you’ve been confirmed as a customer of the new insurer.

3. Take a higher excess

The excess is the amount you contribute in the event you need to make a claim. Taking a higher excess should mean you pay less in premiums.

Utilities: internet and power

Internet costs have dropped in the past year. So if you haven’t checked what you’re paying for your broadband lately, there’s a good chance you could get a better deal.

Use our broadband comparison site to see what’s available: consumer.broadbandcompare.co.nz.

With winter on the doorstep, power use will be going up and so will your bills. As with broadband, you could get a better deal by switching. Our free comparison site can help: powerswitch.org.nz.

Bank fees

Fees provide lucrative income for banks. Last year, they earned $2.3 billion from fees and commissions they charged to customers. But you may be able to avoid some of these charges.

1. Ask about fee exemptions

Start the hunt for bank savings by looking at your everyday transaction account. Over a year you could be forking out hundreds of dollars in fees. Check if you qualify for any fee exemptions on your transaction account.

Woman in kitchen talking to bank on the phone.
Don’t be afraid to haggle with your bank to see what it’s prepared to offer to keep you on as a customer.

If you have a mortgage with your bank, you should be able to haggle to pay no monthly fees.

You should also be exempt if you have term deposits or a decent pile of savings. Regular deposits or a minimum monthly balance can also strengthen your case to get fees scrapped.

Banks usually offer exemptions for children, students, new graduates and those over age 65 (although these sometimes come with provisos, such as having your NZ Super paid into your account).

2. Cutting costs

If you don’t qualify for an exemption, look at how you’re using your account. Add up the number of transactions you do each month. If you have a lot of payments going out, then an account with a flat monthly fee will usually be a better option than one that charges per transaction.

Don’t be afraid to haggle with your bank to see what it’s prepared to offer to keep you on as a customer.

3. Go online

Most banks charge hefty fees when you do your business in branch. Online banking means you can avoid these charges.

Credit cards

The number one rule with a credit card is to pay off your balance in full each month. Otherwise you’ll be paying high interest charges – about 20% – on money owed.

1. Avoid the minimum payment trap

Don’t be tempted to pay just the minimum – minimum payments are designed to benefit the bank, not you, and you’ll be charged interest on the outstanding balance.

2. Don’t get caught by steep annual fees

The other trap with credit cards is the annual fee. This fee will be much higher if your card is linked to a rewards scheme.

Credit card rewards schemes only really reward big spenders. Unless you spend more than $25,000 every two years – and pay off your card at the end of each month – most schemes won’t be worth it. You’ll be better off by switching to a card with no (or a low) annual fee.

3. When to consider a debit card

Debit cards can be used over the internet just like credit cards and over the counter when you’re overseas, and their annual fees are much lower (in some cases non-existent).

The big difference with a debit card is that it’s like cash: it draws on the money in your bank account, so you’re not getting yourself into debt.

However, if you always pay off your credit card each month, there may be no real benefit from switching to a debit card. You’ll lose the interest-free period on purchases that you get with a credit card.

Could you be saving on power?

Enter your household details to find out how much you could be saving on electricity and gas.


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Member comments

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Pamela L.
23 May 2020
Internet

Hi. I looked at your broadband compare and did not see Whangarei company Uber there. After massive frustration with Spark (and my partner previously having a bad experience with Vodafone) a friend recommended Uber. Never been happier. Son now also using them and v happy.

Keith H.
16 May 2020
Insurance Excess

I have recently gone through the House and Contents insurance renewal process and decided that we could afford to bear a $10,000 excess. The Insurers however refused to allow a excess of this level their maximum being $2,000. It seems that the Insurers prefer to get premium than allow clients to self insure. I also note the degree of excess that applies to House earthquake cover due to the EQC and the very little affect this degree of excess has on the premium charged by the Insurers for their excess of EQC coverage.
Regards
Keith Hales