Six places to find extra money

Sure you could quit coffee or wine and probably free up a bunch of money. But where's the fun in that?

Far easier - and no doubt more appealing - is to find any lazy money you're unwittingly letting leach out of your pocket ??? very possibly courtesy of a bunch of legacy deals with once-good-value providers.

"But who has the time?", I hear you ask. No one, hence the plethora of comparison websites that have sprung up to help you interrogate your so-called fixed costs.

Better still, these sites are free to consumers. They're either government funded or, if commercially run, make their money from the providers they list. The problem with the latter is you don't know these background deals and sites usually only carry a portion of the product options.

Here are the four simple searches on my comparison websites of choice that offer you the biggest potential savings.

Your utilities

So. Much. Attention. To. Electricity. The situation differs by state but rises were up to 20 per cent on July 1 in NSW, the ACT, QLD, South Australia and Tasmania, while Victorian prices will increase on January 1.

However, there is an enormous variation in provider pricing, with the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) finding the difference between the cheapest and most expensive provider, for a family of four, is $1400 in Sydney, $800 in Canberra and $900 in Brisbane.

AER also offers product comparison facility Energy Made Easy that, because it is government-backed, shows all available deals (and just two days after they commence). Identifying the best for you is a simple matter of putting in your postcode and some usage details. Note the Victorian government goes it alone on websites too and offers a similar price comparator at compare.switchon.vic.gov.au.

When shopping around for electricity and gas, you may not get a better deal by bundling (providers may be better at one than the other) and watch out for discounts that are short-lived or may not apply to the whole bill. Finally, with utilities in particular, avoid signing up for direct debit. I call this being a bill D.I.L. - standing for digitally induced laziness - as it puts you at risk of stealth tariff hikes next year.

Your health insurance

I repeat my call for insurers to simply be obliged to list last year's premiums on this year's renewal to give policyholders the push to price check.

But ahead of that, you need to phone your general insurers each year to ask for a discount. I did so for my home and contents policy just last week - and they immediately offered me $500 off! Unfortunately, most insurance markets are so fragmented, and premiums so situation-specific, there's a lack of comprehensive comparison websites. (A quick Google with give you some price guidance though.)

That's not true of health insurance, however, where there are big savings available and an excellent and independent comparison tool at privatehealth.gov.au. For example, a quick search shows you could pay $2400 over the odds for a combined hospital and extras policy for a family of four.

If you don't have health insurance don't forget you pay the equivalent premium anyway if you are caught by the Medicare Levy Surcharge (over $90,000 income for a single and $180,000 for a couple).

Your mobile phone and telco

Still on the same deal as a few years ago? You're paying way too much, thanks to fierce competition from new entrants.

I've always had good experiences with big specialist site whistleout.com.au, which compares more than 7000 mobile phone combinations. Just make sure you scroll down to the actual cheapest plans, which are listed below the 'featured" plans.

WhistleOut's analysis for Money shows that if you are currently with dominant player Telstra, on the BYO phone with unlimited calls and texts plan, you are paying $69 a month (15GB of data). If you're with other heavy hitter Optus, it's $50 a month (6GB).

But switch to Jeenee Mobile' s Pennywise and you'll pay only $30 per month (it uses the Optus 4G network). That's $468 a year less than Telstra - and plans with Spintel (10GB) and Moose Mobile (10GB) are almost as cheap (Optus 4G network too).

You probably also need to kick your broadband company to the curb. And if you're wedded to a landline, bundling can save a small fortune.

Your mortgage

You know what's usually easiest still though? Look to the very thing for which you are probably trying to free up money: your mortgage.

While big banks have been tightening the screws on borrowers, there are dozens of deals with rates starring with a 3. Still, KPMG analysis shows more than 80 per cent of us are with a big bank, with advertised rates well above 5 per cent - and going up by the week.

Of the raft of price comparators, it's difficult to choose which is best, but Canstar.com.au is the oldest comparison site and has the broadest market representation, although it's a bit clunky to use. To see the products that are truly cheapest you also need to untick the "Yes, only show results with links" box and sort these results by "current rate: lowest first" filter. The respected Canstar rating will then aid your decision.

If you switch the average $370,500 mortgage from the average interest rate of 4.88 per cent to the best rate, 3.44 (from the five-star-rated Reduce Home Loans or unrated Homestar), you would put a cool $297 a month back in your pocket ??? $3564 a year.

But keep paying the same amount off your mortgage and you'll save almost $130,000 and get out of debt five years earlier. At which point nearly $2000 in monthly repayments become yours too.

Don't forget to look "under your mattress"

It may sound ridiculous that you could have lost money, but millions of Australians have misplaced some $18 billion in total. Check under your actual mattress but it's more likely you'll find it under metaphorical ones like bank accounts, investments and super ??? more sensible places to stash cash for your future. Unless you forget.

You need only do two quick web searches to check:

1. Go to your myGov account on ato.gov.au to see if you are part owner of $16 billion in lost super. It's conceivable if you've changed jobs, names or moved house. Multiple accounts can mean multiple fees and some super may even have been transferred to the ATO.

2. Visit moneysmart.gov.au in case you hold part of the $1.1 billion in unclaimed bank accounts, insurance and shares. This would most likely happen if you've moved house and not updated your address. Many Australians have received shares in demutualisations and forgotten and bank accounts are transferred to government coffers (but reclaimable) after seven years without deposits or withdrawals.

Nicole Pedersen-McKinnon is a commentator and educator who presents her Smart Money Start, fun financial literacy incursion, in high schools around Australia. Follow Nicole on Facebook at Nicole Pedersen-McKinnon Money.

The story Six places to find extra money first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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