As a freelancer in the creative industries, I’m very aware of the financial pressures a lot of my colleagues have experienced over the last few months. When we get talking, I’m always surprised just how few people really have a good handle on money and how to make savings or find the best deals. It seems like they just aren’t aware of many of the websites, tools, tricks or loopholes you can use to help make the most of your money and make it go that much further. So, I decided it might be beneficial if I share some of my money-saving tips with you!
Most of my shopping these days is done online. For nearly every purchase I make, I usually save anywhere between 1-10% through using a cashback site. The two most popular in the UK are Quidco and TopCashback.
The way these sites work is simple. Once you know what you’d like to buy, head over to the cashback site. When you’re there, look for the name of the retailer you’d like to buy from, and click on their name. You’ll then be taken back to their site, but you’ll now receive cashback when you make your purchase.
Since I started using these sites, I have made a saving of around £4000! Some purchases may only give pennies, but if you make it a habit, it’s worth it in the long run.
When it comes to redeeming your cashback you can also increase this saving. If you move the cashback to your bank account you just receive the amount you ask to withdraw, however, if you redeem your cashback for a gift voucher at one of the partner stores you can receive a payout bonus of up to 25%. You can even earn cashback again when you spend your voucher!
I probably place over 100 orders a year through Amazon. A lot of these items aren’t urgent, so for things I know I’d like in the future but don’t want to buy right now, I use a really useful site called CamelCamelCamel. This is an Amazon price tracker that lets you monitor the price of an item over time and receive alerts when it drops to a price you’re happy to pay.
You can also view historical price data so you know the lowest price your item has ever been sold for. This is really useful, especially around Black Friday and during sale periods, so you can see if you’re really getting a good deal. There is a browser plugin for Chrome called “The Camelizer” which is a quick way to check this data directly from any Amazon product page.
HotUKDeals is a community in which members post links to great deals they’ve found, both online and in physical stores. Members vote “hot” or “cold” on each one, and the hottest deals are sent out each day in an email. This is an excellent way to spend money on things you didn’t even know you wanted!
The website also has the useful feature of keyword alerts, which means you can receive a notification as soon as a deal goes live relating to your keywords. This is really helpful when you’re waiting for a specific offer to appear, as often the deals end quickly and you need to get in fast!
My most industry-specific tip is to join BECTU, the union for workers in the media and entertainment industries. Not only is being a member of a trade union a great way to keep up to date on industry practices but you also receive advice, support and most importantly, discounts!
As a freelancer, it’s essential to hold a public liability insurance policy, and often purchasing this is quite expensive. BECTU offers members the chance to join the group policy for just £40 per year, which is the cheapest I’ve ever found it.
There are absolutely loads of discounts available to BECTU members, but I wanted to mention two in particular. Firstly, by being a BECTU member, you are eligible for a completely legitimate Totum Pro card, which is essentially a student card. A three year card costs under £30, and I genuinely made this saving in about two weeks with 30% off a restaurant meal and a 20% discount in H&M. It also offers 10% off in Co-op so the savings soon add up!
Secondly, as a BECTU member, you’re able to purchase discounted gift cards from a number of retailers, including supermarkets Aldi, Morrisons and Sainsbury’s. If one of these is where you do your regular shopping then it’s an easy saving of 2.5-3% every time you visit!
Here’s one for the technical freelancers. I realise that spending money on equipment isn’t necessarily money saving, but if you are going to buy gear then it makes sense to get the best price you can. I’ve always used CVP for my camera equipment and they provide excellent service as well as generally beating any competitor prices. Don’t be afraid to negotiate on the price too; it’s always worth a discussion to see if they can knock a bit extra off the quote!
I’m constantly amazed by how many people don’t take advantage of reward schemes offered by retailers. All it takes is swiping a barcode or card and you’ll earn points which can be exchanged for vouchers and free products, so there’s really no reason not to do it!
When it comes to redeeming the points, this is where you need to be a bit more savvy. While it might often be tempting to exchange them for a monetary discount, many providers like Tesco Clubcard offer a boost with their reward partners which effectively triples the value of the rewards. I always use my Subway points for hot drinks over the sandwiches as this makes them go further, and with the number of motorway services I visit, they get used a lot!
This is one tip which may not work for everyone so you really need to do the maths, but this particular tip has saved me a substantial amount over the years. Websites such as Fuel Card Services offer a number of cards for all the major brands which give savings over the fuel price at the pump.
I use an Esso fuel card which has an annual fee of about £12. Each week I receive an email with the fuel price for the next seven days, which is generally about 10p cheaper per litre than the pump price at my local garage.
However, it’s important to consider that brands like Esso aren’t necessarily the cheapest to begin with, so you may find supermarket garages are a similar price anyway. It just depends on your fuel buying habits, what garages you have nearby and the normal fuel prices in your area.
Credit cards are a fantastic tool, providing you know how to use them and are disciplined. There are different cards available for different purposes, and it’s important to choose carefully to make sure you get the right card for you.
For everyday spending, you’ll want to look for a cashback or reward card, meaning that the provider issues an annual cashback payment based on the amount you spend each year. The best of these tends to be Amex which can be up to 1.25% depending on which of the cards you go for. With a credit card you use for everyday spending, the most important thing to remember is that you’re only saving money if you pay the balance off in full each month. As soon as you start incurring interest, you may as well not bother.
There are a number of specific credit cards which offer 0% on spending, currently for up to 20 months. That means that as long as you clear the balance before the promotional period ends you won’t be charged any interest. This can effectively work like an interest free loan for large purchases. I’ve recently bought a new camera using this method; rather than having to pay £9000 in one go, I used a 0% card with 24 months to pay, and just set up a manageable monthly direct debit of £375.
One of the biggest hurdles to saving money is complacency. It’s very easy to auto-renew products like insurance on a yearly basis with the same supplier, or to stay with your utility providers month on month because it’s easier. Try to get into the habit of comparing prices of annual products before renewing them automatically, as many providers often offer introductory discounts to win new custom which expire after the first year. Obviously it’s important to make sure you’re making a true like-for-like comparison before switching, and occasionally you might have good reason for choosing to pay a premium, such as wanting to use a reputable brand or good customer service.
As a freelancer using the self-assessment scheme, I’m responsible for making my own income tax payments. This means that at any given time I may have thousands of pounds waiting in an account which is due as a future income tax payment. Even though the current financial climate means interest rates are very low, it’s still worth putting this money to work for you in the meantime.
Make sure you know when your tax payments are due and how much you owe, then put the money into a financial product that gives you the best return before these dates. You might choose something like a limited-access savings account or a regular monthly saver, and I’d recommend checking MoneySavingExpert.com for up to date information on the best savings products. If you have this money just sitting in your regular current account then chances are it’ll be earning zero interest and you might be more tempted to spend it too!
Hopefully these financial tips will help to save you some money, I know we’d all be glad of a little extra! I’d be really keen to hear if you have anything you’d like to share on this subject so please drop me an email or leave a comment below.