We are entering into autumn now, a time when our energy usage traditionally starts to increase as we start to turn the heating on more often.
It’s a more notable time too this year, given the crisis currently taking place within the energy market which has already resulted in the closure of energy suppliers, with warnings more are set to follow.
What’s happening in the energy market?
Energy suppliers get their energy from the wholesale markets, and then sell it on to us, the customers.
However, the price of the energy on the wholesale markets, particularly gas, has rocketed of late. The prices have grown so quickly they have put suppliers under real pressure, as they are essentially losing money on some of the deals they offer.
In fact, it’s led to a succession of energy suppliers hitting the wall. Since August the likes of Hub Energy, PfP Energy, MoneyPlus Energy, Utility Point and People’s Energy have all gone bust.
The gas prices have risen so rapidly across Europe over fears that we are going into winter with low stocks, making the existing gas stocks even more highly in demand. This is a particular problem for the UK as we are so reliant on gas.
Help! My supplier’s gone out of business
Having your energy supplier collapse can be a nervy time ‒ it’s something I went through last year when Tonik Energy went out of business.
And while none of the names which have gone bust are household names, they still supply energy to thousands of households across the country.
Thankfully, a collapsed supplier doesn’t mean that you have to go without power. Instead Ofgem, the energy regulator, appoints a new supplier to take over.
While the deal you move to won’t be identical to your previous tariff, Ofgem challenges the various suppliers to compete for your business and then selects what it believes is the best deal.
This has also caused issues though. There are reports that the large energy suppliers have questioned how viable the energy price cap is, as it limits the money they can make from customers.
If they are taking on even more customers as rival suppliers collapse ‒ and in all likelihood, there will be more suppliers going out of business in the months ahead ‒ then that problem is only magnified.
Removing the energy price cap
The energy price cap was introduced a few years ago, as a means of protecting people on their supplier’s standard variable tariff.
These are the costly deals you move onto after your initial fixed or variable tariff has finished, and have historically been really expensive. The cap was put in place to stop these customers being completely ripped off, but it has been increasing.
Earlier this year it moved to £1,254, in part as a way to support suppliers who have had to accept slower payments from their customers due to Covid. However, it’s now jumping 12% in October to £1,277.
According to newspaper reports, energy firms are lobbying for it to be scrapped entirely, and while the Government has said it will stay in place for this winter, it won’t commit to maintaining it for the long term.
The benefit of fixing your energy bill – if you can
While the situation should be a concern for anyone on a variable tariff, as they face the prospect of rapidly escalating bills, there are millions of energy customers who aren’t going to see any real difference to their bills, for a while at least.
And that’s the people that have signed up to a fixed energy tariff. As the name suggests, for these people the price of their energy is set in stone for the term of their fixed period. It may just be a year, or it could be a longer period.
These deals are always worth looking at ‒ they provide some certainty over what you’ll be paying, and they are far cheaper than the standard variable tariffs on offer from energy suppliers.
And perhaps most importantly, in the current situation, they offer protection against crises like we are currently seeing. If you’re on a fixed tariff, your bills won’t be going up during the term of your deal, no matter what happens to gas prices.
The respite isn’t permanent of course.
When your term ends, and it’s time to move to a new deal, you may end up facing higher bills ‒ there’s a decent chance that the fixed tariffs on offer in a few months time won’t be anywhere near as attractive as those on the market a month or so ago.
However, you’ll still be in a better position than those households who will have had to cope with their bills ratcheting up with little notice as a result of the crisis.
It’s worth having a look around to see if you can find a suitable fixed deal, but you’ll need to act fast: many energy suppliers are rapidly pulling deals in response to rising wholesale prices.
We’ve already seen Compare the Market freeze its entire energy switching service due to a lack of competitive deals, and it’s possible other comparison services will follow suit.
Internet shopping tips you need to know
Even as lockdowns start to ease across the globe, the pandemic means that we have to maintain varying levels of social distancing and that means many of us are doing most of our shopping online. One benefit of this is that the internet is full of exciting deals and offers, from coupon codes to massive discounts, if you know where to look. And as companies fight for customers’ attention online, there are definitely deals to be had. Click or scroll through to find out some of the tips and tricks –/
Clear your browsing history and cookies or go private
When searching for coupon codes, or just online shopping generally, always remember to clear your browsing history and cookies, or use an in-private browser window. If a website can see you have already been looking at certain products (flights in particular), prices are likely to be increased. /
Search the product name to get a better deal
It may sound simple, but merely putting a product’s name into an internet search engine can save you hundreds. Why just settle for one product price when there is likely to be a huge amount of competition online? /
Find the cheapest prices on price comparison sites
Price comparison sites, such as PriceGrabber or PriceRunner, are a great way of saving money, as they will analyse your searches across a number of difference retailers to find the best prices available. /
Shop online from Wednesday through Friday
Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays are the most popular days for retailers to offer sales and discount codes, so try to do your browsing then. Avoid weekends though as you’ll find that’s when most people tend to do their shopping and so prices are most likely to be hiked. /
Sign up to newsletters for exclusive deals
Online retailers are keen to get you on their mailing list, so many offer an incentive for signing up to their newsletters. At H&M for example you can get money off one item and free standard delivery on your next purchase. Even if a retailer doesn’t offer an incentive, newsletters are a good way to stay in the loop about sales, store events and other offers that could benefit you./
Add items to your shopping cart… and then leave
One savvy trick you could try when shopping online is to ditch your basket. This involves signing in to a website, adding items to your basket, but then leaving the site without making a purchase. Often retailers, keen for a sale, will send you an email offering you money off to come back and complete the transaction./
Haggle with retailers on live chat for discounts
More and more retailers now offer a live chat service with someone on hand to help you out when shopping online. So rather than dismissing the pop-up you could use it to haggle for a better deal on something you want to buy. The online helpers for retailers like Nike, Dell and Dyson have been known to offer discounts of 10% or more, just because people asked./
Hunt for voucher codes
As well as checking out whether you can earn cashback you should also check if you can score some money off with a voucher code. You can see the latest codes on websites such as RetailMeNot in Canada, Vouchercodes in the UK and Finder in Australia./
Beat delivery charges
Delivery charges can be a real shock when you come to the online checkout for your shop. But there are ways to avoid this cost. Some retailers like Amazon offer the choice of picking up your order from a store or locker rather than getting it delivered to your home. Most offer this service for free or for a much smaller fee and it’s often more convenient as you don’t have to get someone to wait in for a delivery or run the chance of missing it./
See if your favourite retailers offer schemes to save you cash
If you shop regularly with a retailer, there may be a scheme that can offer you a way to save. For example, Amazon Prime offers unlimited fast delivery, exclusive deals, plus access to streaming movies and other benefits./
Use social networking to be the first to know about sales
One of the best ways of saving money online is to get savvy with social media. “Like” your favourite retailers on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter. You’ll soon find that many merchants, such as Gap, post special coupons or announce sales first on their Facebook pages./
If you have to buy tickets, online will often have better offers
As lockdowns are starting to ease across the world and we gradually return to a version of life as we used to know it, remember to look online before booking anything directly through a ticket office on the phone. Bus, train, theatre, movie and flight tickets are likely to be noticeably cheaper online than they would be if you were to contact the merchant directly. /
Join membership clubs for designer brand flash sales
A range of branded and designer goods run ‘membership clubs’, whereby you can register for free and get sent alerts for online flash sales. Doing this can get you discounts on some of the major designer brands such as Louis Vuitton and Chanel. /
Subscribe to Amazon for discounts on your regular purchases
If you shop on Amazon regularly, it’s worthwhile subscribing, if not to Amazon Prime then to the Subscribe & Save feature, which automates the repurchasing process for you. Not only does it save time, but it also saves up to 15% off, through free delivery and some money being shaved off the original price for you. What’s even better is there is no sign-up fee./
Use the Amazon filler item finder to avoid shipping costs
Don’t want to pay the fees for Amazon Prime? All you need to do is try and spend the minimum amount to get free shipping. You don’t want to spend for the sake of it though, so you can use an Amazon filler item finder to reach the fee without over-spending. /
Use gift cards on your purchases for big savings
Using gift cards to buy things online can give you some pretty great savings. To make the most of it, fill up your cart online, then once you have a total, see if you can buy a discounted gift card for that store from the likes of CardSwap in Canada, Cardyard in the UK or Voucha in Australia that amounts to the value of your purchase. /
Stack coupon codes
Don’t be afraid to stack coupon codes. Many online retailers will allow you to stack up a bunch of different coupon codes at checkout so you can apply a number of different discounts to the same purchase. /
Include your birthday when you sign up to retailers and get a birthday discount
Signing up to newsletters has lots of perks, but don’t forget to fill in your birthday when registering. Some companies, coffee shops and restaurants will offer you a discount on your birthday, or in some cases a free gift such as a free coffee when you go in store. /
Buy out of season
It’s a classic hack, but buying out of season can save you a lot of money. When the demand for a certain product dips, so do the prices. For example, the price of swimwear during the peak of summer will always be at its most expensive; buy during the peak of winter instead for the best bargains. /
Before you buy, check to see if you can get it for free
The joy of the internet is that anything is possible. And that means getting things for free too. Before you buy something, check you can’t get the same or similar item for free. Sites like Freecycle will bring up second-hand goods that are available in your area and there are some serious bargains to be had. /Internet Explorer Channel Network