Changing some of your habits and finding new ways to spend your time can save you cash and boost your income
There is absolutely no excuse not to shop around anymore. Sorry, but there it is. You simply need to use the price-comparison websites — MoneySupermarket, uSwitch, Gocompare, CompareTheMarket and Confused.com. The biggest wins are likely to come from switching your energy supplier, mortgage lender and credit-card, so start with them. Also shop around for car insurance, home insurance, all your other utilities and services such as broadband.
■ Go through your bank statements and reconsider every single monthly standing order or direct debit. Do you still need the product or service? Also, systematically save every money-off voucher you can find. If you are sceptical about this, remember Jennifer Drew, the 32-year-old from Ashby-de-la-Zouch who hit the headlines when she bought almost £600 of Christmas food, drink and presents for just £4.05 following a year of collecting vouchers, supermarket points and money-back promotions.
■ Unbiased, the organisation that promotes financial advice, produces an annual report on how much unnecessary tax people pay — last year, it claims, the average person wasted £165 on tax they didn’t need to pay. Common mistakes include not using your annual individual savings account (Isa) allowance, not claiming tax relief on pension savings and failing to plan for inheritance tax. Its free guide to saving tax is at www.unbiased.co.uk/tax-action/mini-guide.
■ All your music and film is now stored on your phone, your PC and in the cloud, so why is your home still stuffed with CDs and DVDs? Free up space and make money by selling old music and film on websites such as musicmagpie.co.uk, ziffit.com, zapper.co.uk and Computer Exchange (uk.webuy.com). What they will pay varies from a few pennies to a few pounds, but the cash soon adds up. You can also sell old computer games, books and other clutter.
■ If you have an unused spare room think about getting a lodger, or offer your home for short-term lets via Airbnb or rival services. Successive governments have maintained the Rent a Room scheme and George Osborne has extended it from April, when you’ll be able to earn up to £7,500 a year (up from £4,250 currently) by renting out accommodation in your home without tax. That applies to regular income from a tenant renting a room, or occasional income from short-term lets.
■ A broad range of companies now competes to buy your old mobile, so don’t leave it in a drawer when you upgrade. Newer models, particularly smartphones, attract premium prices, but most phones are worth something. You can even sell broken handsets. Mobilevaluer.com is a quick way to find out who offers the best prices — it currently reports prices as high as £104 for an old Apple iPhone 5.
■ Quidco.com works like other online-cashback companies — buy products online through retailers registered on the site and you’ll get a small percentage of the purchase price as cashback — but you can also use the service when shopping in stores. Around 40 high-street retailers are signed up to the scheme. Quidco claims typical annual earnings of £252 for its members.
■ In the digital age, everyone can be a professional photographer and the demand from companies for pictures is rising. Upload your pictures to an online agency: Fotolia, iStockphoto, 123RF and Photographers Direct are good places to start. If their customers download one of your shots, you’ll get paid – commissions vary from 20 to 60 per cent.
■ Do you have opinions? Of course you do, you are a Times reader. Why not let online polling sites pay you for your views? Sites pay small sums — £1 a survey, say — and you only get paid once you’ve hit an earnings threshold; £25 or £50 is typical. Stick at it, however, and the rewards will start to add up. Alternatively, consider taking part in a focus group, either online or in a physical location. Some market-research companies pay as much as £100 for a couple of hours’ work. Get started by using sarosresearch.com, indiefield.net or focus4people.com.
■ Film and TV producers need people for crowd shots (for programmes such as BBC Two’s Extras, left) all the time. Extras earn up to £200 a day (expect to spend most of your time hanging about). See spotlight.com for a list of agencies, but watch out for scams.
■ If you’re in good health, participating in clinical trials can be a good way to earn extra money. There is a risk of side effects, but drugs companies must do all sorts of laboratory experiments before they are allowed to test on people. You can expect to get £70 to £150 a day for your time — and you’ll be doing your bit for medical science. See www.gpgp.net for a list of opportunities.