Now that the kids are back at school and the weather is letting us know that summer is over, our thoughts turn to the winter ahead. With rising fuel prices on the horizon as well as the prospect of a winter as cold as last year, we're here to offer some ideas that could help you keep warm and save money at the same time.
So dust off your scarf, gloves and woolly hat and read the thinkmoney guide to warming up your winter finances!
Government payment schemes
It's always worth checking to see if you're entitled to any financial help and there are Government payment schemes for the most 'vulnerable' people in society in extremely cold weather. The payments are meant to go towards the cost of heating a home.
- Cold Weather Payments are paid automatically to those in receipt of certain benefits, but only when the temperature drops to zero or below over seven consecutive days.
- The Warm Home Discount Scheme is an electricity bill rebate of £120 which is available to qualifying pensioners who get just the Guarantee Credit element of Pension Credit on 11 September 2011.
- The Winter Fuel Payment is a tax-free payment to help with the cost of heating a home in winter for those who most need it, born on or before 5 January 1951.
- There are grants available for home repairs or improvements, including double glazing. Whether you qualify depends on where you live, among other things, as each case is at the discretion of your local council. You can find out more here.
- If you receive income-related benefits, you may qualify for the Warm Front Scheme - funding to make your home more energy efficient.
For further information on what benefits you may be entitled to, read our guide to benefits.
Lower your heating bills
There are a few practical things anyone can do to keep their heating costs down. If you are out of the house all day or for an extended period of time in winter, it's not always cheaper to turn your heating off completely. Depending on the size of your home and the quality of your insulation, it could take more energy to completely re-heat your home when you get back, rather than just having the heating 'ticking over' at a lower temperature throughout the day.
It's a good idea to bleed all radiators to remove any air, as the air makes it more difficult for the heat to pass through the radiator. You could turn off the radiators in the rooms you're not using to save on bills and keep doors closed to keep heat in the rooms where you want it.
If your bedroom is cold when you get into bed, an electric blanket or hot water bottle should provide much-needed warmth and be a lot cheaper. An even cheaper option is to cuddle up to someone! Just watch out for cold toes!
If you go away for Christmas and leave your home empty, it's often a good idea to leave your heating on a timer to come on for perhaps an hour a day. Firstly, it could take more energy to reheat the house completely than to keep it slightly warmed. Secondly, it is not uncommon for pipes to burst if the heating has been off completely when it freezes. That could prove to be very expensive to repair.
Finally, check if you are getting the best energy deal by comparing providers at uSwitch.
Insulating your home
Thick curtains and draft excluders act as insulation, keeping in more of the warmth. If you don't have carpets, a large rug can also keep warmth in. Cavity wall insulation could pay for itself in time with the savings you make on your heating bills. You may even qualify for free cavity wall insulation, saving you even more money - see the 'Warm Front Scheme' above.
You could place foil along the back of your radiators. This reflects the heat away from the wall and back into the room, rather than out of the house, so the heat stays where you want it to.
There's even a product you can buy which adds extra insulation to your windows. You add it on to your windows and blow it with a hair dryer until it expands. It should help prevent some of the heat escaping through your windows.
Other ways to keep warm and save money
One of the best things about winter is eating hearty 'comfort food'. One good way of saving money is to re-use leftovers. You could put almost anything in a slow cooker - which uses little energy - to make a tasty casserole. Leftover casserole also tastes great.
If you're looking for a good source of cheap entertainment in the winter, try the library where you can borrow books, DVDs and music for free.
It can be difficult to get motivated to exercise in the winter - especially if you've just eaten a hearty bowl of leftover casserole! A good way to keep fit and healthy in the winter is to walk instead of driving or using public transport. Some people say 'there is no such thing as bad weather - only bad clothing', so a hooded waterproof or fleece-lined jacket and some waterproof boots could be all you need to keep warm and dry.
As for clothing - fashion often goes out of the window when it's really cold! A good place to pick up cheap or second-hand scarves, jackets, hats, etc. is on eBay, or you could look in charity shops for warm winter clothing too.
We hope we have inspired you with some ideas to keep you warm and save you money this winter. We will be featuring an article on 'spreading the cost of Christmas' very soon, so keep your eyes peeled for that. (Yes, it's only September, but Christmas can be a very expensive time - we thought we'd get prepared early, so stay tuned!)