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How to beat the budget

Despite the cuts, and the Chancellor’s best efforts, there are still ways to save a fortune. Anna Leach trawls the best money-saving websites


A storehouse of online discount codes and links to print out money-off vouchers, the information on this site can get you money off everything from birthday cards to tapas. The drawback is that deals come and go, so you might just find offers from Hallmark when you want gourmet Spanish food. However, there’s a broad range of shops and sectors covered, so it’s worth a check before making a big purchase. Karyn Fleeting, who edits bargainhunting blog Miss-Thrifty.co.uk, has a couple of recommendations for other, similar sites: “I like shopcodes.co.uk and voucherhub.com, which is easier on the eye than some of its competitors,” she says. “If you are looking to save money, my advice is to Google the merchant and the words ‘discount code’ or ‘voucher code’. That way, you can find the best offers without getting distracted and spending your cash elsewhere.”


Always suspected the filling station down the road was cheaper? Now you have empirical and updated proof. Enter your postcode and this site will pull up stations near you with comparative prices and even map locations. With variation in prices of up to 20p a litre, you can save a lot with a little planning. Rose Harris from UK money site MoneySavingExpert.com agrees: “You’ll be surprised how much you can save by keeping an eye on the latest prices.” It’s free, but you need to register to access their database. Petrol Prices is now an iPhone app, too, so you can compare nearby stations when away from the computer.


An online insurance site for anyone hiring a car in the UK or abroad, i-Car Hire Insurance doesn’t offer the whole package, but will cover excesses or Damage Fee Protection cheaply, which protects against damage to the vehicle. Usually sold separately from other insurance by car renters, i-Car starts from £2.99 a day and it promises savings of up to £100 on a 14 day holiday in Spain. If you’re renting on holiday and feel you’re paying over the odds, check this site out.


A kind of virtual skip, where you can rifle through a roster of online freebie and find anything – from garden stoneware to posters. It’s a community where people exchange unwanted goods for free. Usually the deal is that if you can pick it up, it’s yours. Jenny Keefe from MoneySavingExpert says: “Before you request any cast-offs, it’s Freecycle etiquette to email an offer to the group. Nothing is too small – people will take old magazines, empty paint pots, stuffing for cushions. Though do be wary when donating computers, as the hard drive can retain personal security details. Consider donating PCs to a charity such as computeraid.org instead.” She also recommends freegle.com, which is based on similar principles.


Of course, you can do car shares without a website, but liftshare.com helps put you in touch with more people who might be going your way. The site matches up drivers with spare seats and other people who just want to travel and are willing to chip in with the petrol. For the passengers, it’s a lot cheaper than a taxi and for both driver and driven, the savings could roll into the hundreds over a year. The idea of the social network is that you get to know your potential car-friend – or BUDi as it calls them – and check their credentials before entrusting yourself to their driving skills – and conversation…


Staying on a stranger’s couch in a foreign city isn’t everybody’s idea of a holiday. Financially, though, it makes a lot of sense – you can save hundreds of pounds in a matter of days by cutting out hotel bills. Not for the faint-hearted, CouchSurfing is a way to stay for free/cheap in foreign countries through a social network of travellers. It tends to be adventurous younger people who join this – usually men – and you’re unlikely to get an en suite, but you might make new friends. And if you take the time to chat to people first, you’ll be able to work out who you trust and who you get on with. “I have a few friends who use Couch- Surfing,” says Penny, who runs Penny Golightly.com, a blog for bon viveurs on a budget, “and they always praise the social aspects of it. You’re unlikely to land luxury digs, but you do get to see the world from a local’s eye view, which is something money can’t buy.”


Most days of the year, you probably don’t want to organise nine friends to go on a spa weekend, but the one time you do, Groupon is definitely the place to start looking for it. It’s a group buying site that offers heavily-discounted deals, provided you sign up a certain number of friends. There’s only one deal a day and they tend to be for events or services – anything from paintballing to meals to, yes, spas. There are local versions for different UK cities. Penny Golightly cautions: “Group buying is increasingly popular and works best if you’re looking for occasional cheap treats, although the short-term nature of the offers can lead to impulse purchases. “Read the small print and do a little internet research of your own before buying any deal.”


Don’t pay the plumber – fix the sink yourself! This video advice site shows you how to accomplish simple DIY tasks such as unblocking the sink and putting up shelves. Of course, you still have to pay for materials, but you can cut right back on the labour costs of hiring a workman. “I steer clear of the more ‘challenging’ videos available, on the basis that punching above my DIY weight could turn out to be a false economy.” says Karyn of MissThrifty.


Cut out CD purchases and iTunes (those 99ps add up) and listen to a vast catalogue of music for free online, paid for by advertising. Free deals are limited to 20 hours listening a month – not bad, but a subscription of £10 a month will allow unlimited listening with no ads. It might be worth taking the plunge. Archna Luthra of MoneySaving Expert says: “Spotify is a brilliant way to access free music provided you’re happy with ad interruptions. “It’s also possible to get stacks of free MP3s from emerging artists or bigger ones on a promotional drive, tunechecker.com lists many.”


Offering a fund of tips on frugal living – from preserving courgettes to making your own coffee and looking after the dog more cheaply (groom Fido yourself!), this American site is for the thrift-addicts, but most people could learn something about saving a few pounds. See the article on why you should never buy pre-chopped vegetables, for example. Otherwise, check our commenters’ websites for ideas, tips and thrifty living in Britain: MoneySaving Expert. com; PennyGolightly.com; and Miss-Thrifty.co.uk.