Finding the cheapest broadband and calls
Home broadband, line rental and phone calls have all risen in price over the past few years putting significant pressure on families already feeling the pinch as a result of stagnant wages and higher energy bills.
But prices have by no means increased equally across the board.
There are still plenty of deals that continue to offer good value for money and, with some clever tricks, most subscribers could start paying less with a minimum of effort.
The first thing to bear in mind is that the biggest providers are often the most expensive. Here are the standard broadband (up to 17Mb) deals from the biggest five ISPs:
Depending on the special offers they're running, one of the above deals may be the cheapest available - but to find the cheapest at any particular moment in time, check here.
As competition for our business has increased, the competition to offer the best introductory offers has also grown, and discounts last as long as the minimum contract term are becoming more common.
To really nab the best deals however, it's also worth knowing a little more.
Here are five secrets those paying the least for their broadband and calls know - and that everyone else should know too.
1. 'Budget' providers aren't always cheapest
Here's a big broadband secret: companies marketing themselves as budget providers is one thing, actually being the cheapest is another.
As shown above, long cut price or "free" deals, or similar special offers, can mean the cheapest equivalent prices over a year or more, but that's not the only thing we should consider.
Big name budget providers sometimes lure in subscribers with low prices - but setup fees and connection costs, high line rental and out of allowance charges, and of course the prices charged outside the offer period conspire against those taking the provider-first approach.
In addition, most of the cheapest broadband and phone providers are available only in the most competitive areas, or use geographic pricing; those in less competitive, more rural, regions are likely to have to pay more.
Potential customers will need to check availability in their area before assuming that they'll be able to get the prices advertised - which are, coincidentally, also the lowest ones.
Thanks to new rules on advertising broadband, providers now have to show the total monthly cost of their broadband deals (including line rental), and make the setup costs and post-offer prices much clearer.
That should help sort the truly cheap options from the "budget" - and make it easier for those who don't want to keep switching for the best deal to find the best long term provider for them.
2. Mix and match broadband and calls
The same "don't assume" principle applies to taking home phone alongside broadband in order to save money.
Many budget broadband providers actually have fairly high line rental costs.
Before the change to all inclusive pricing came in, it was the case that for a long time TalkTalk, who market themselves as the much cheaper option, charged almost as much for line rental as BT.
Even Plusnet, who tend to be cheaper than the other big ADSL providers, only charge around £1 less than BT, who are almost always the most expensive. They - and until very recently, TalkTalk - rely on the lure of their cheap broadband and constant offers to pull people in.
Minimising line rental costs
To minimise costs it's worth checking whether a provider offers a "pay upfront" option to cut costs. For example::
Once we could also have considered taking standalone line rental or going phone-line free.
As recently as spring 2014, Primus (now Fuel broadband, more here) offered ridiculously cheap line rental with inclusive calls. Even then it was getting more difficult to get bargain broadband to go with it, as we explained in this guide.
But now it's almost impossible to get broadband without taking the provider's phone line, making this an option only for the most stubborn.
One alternative may be taking broadband without a phone line.
It might also be worth considering what kind of savings would be available using a Voice over IP (VoIP) service like Skype. Click through for more information on that.
Watch for false economies
However, even going phone line free can end up being a false economy.
Virgin Media (more here), for example - the only provider to offer broadband without needing a home phone at all - increase the price of their broadband deals when customers don't also bundle their home phone.
Providers are increasingly stripping out any kind of inclusive call - so that high monthly charge only covers the cost of having a phone in the house, not for doing anything with it.
At the time of writing, for example, one 60 minute landline call made during at the weekend with Sky would cost £7.07 (11.5p/min + 16.9p connection). That one call is almost twice as expensive as the cost of upgrading to Sky's Evening and Weekends Extra call plan, which costs £4 a month.
Similarly, be cautious of bundle deals which only offer inclusive weekend calls, as BT, EE, and Virgin Media do as standard, for example.
More providers now charge a flat rate for non-inclusive calls, whatever time of day or day of the week they're made, and as the example above shows, it doesn't take much to run up a serious monthly bill.
Splashing a few pounds extra a month to add inclusive evening calls, or even anytime calls, might end up cheaper than going without would appear to be.
This is particularly true for those who, for example, often make overseas calls: our guide to that is here.
It used to be possible to save money off the monthly cost of the phone and/or broadband, or earn rewards for paying it every month, via some loyalty schemes, but these are now rarer than hen's teeth.
What some people will be able to do is earn cash back for paying their bills as normal - a couple of banks offer this perk as we explain here.
We look back at the kind of loyalty scheme perk that used to be available with Tesco broadband in our archive review of the now defunct service.
Are TV bundles cheaper?
Broadband users generally pay a premium for going elsewhere for their home phone. And indeed, the more services a company offers, the cheaper the deals for adding another service may seem.
Virgin Media's dual and triple play TV deals are a great example of this: it's more expensive to get more services - but the cost of the TV part of the deal drops considerably as soon as we add home phone, or phone and broadband.
And while they no longer offer Broadband Lite, Sky still have a cheaper "light use" broadband package specifically for customers who already have TV and phone.
If that kind of bundling to save sounds tempting, check the available deals here.
However, just as the movie has taught us, sometimes trying to get "cheaper by the dozen" can end up being more, rather than less, complicated.
The focus should always be on getting what we really want first, making sure it fits our budget. Adding TV won't be worthwhile unless we actually use it.
3. Long contracts
As could be expected, taking a longer broadband contract usually means taking a cheaper deal.
Most contracts last a minimum of 12 months, but add in fibre or TV services and you're likely to face an 18- or even 24-month commitment.
This is, increasingly, also true of calls.
Even those providers who offer a flexible rolling broadband contract (more on those here), often insist on a 12 month line rental contract.
And as line rental costs go through the roof, many canny providers have found they can get people to commit to a year or more with them by way of their upfront line rental deals.
As we outlined above, these deals can knock a considerable amount off the monthly price of line rental, but in most cases the money is non-refundable. The upfront option effectively ties customers in for at least another year, regardless of when the minimum contract period ends.
To find out more about reducing the cost of line rental, including more pay upfront deals, see our guide here.
4. Even cheaper broadband and calls:
free wi-fi and VoIP
However much we cut the monthly cost of broadband and calls, we'll still be paying upwards of £17 or £18 for the landline, assuming we're happy to be locked into a long contract.
Those who often move house or only need access to the internet very occasionally may find that free wi-fi could be the answer.
Finding free wi-fi
Thousands of cafes and pubs across the UK offer free wi-fi to their customers.
As well as thousands of independents, that includes some of the biggest brands - McDonalds, Wetherspoons, Walkabout and Pret a Manger are just four examples - but it's worth considering that shelling out for a few coffees a week to use these connections could soon add up... and possibly cost more than getting a landline and broadband contract.
Those looking to cut down on call costs may also want to consider free VoIP services such as Skype and Sipgate.
Users need to download the same software as each other - which is almost always free from the service's website. Then it's simply a case of choosing a username, finding their friend's username, and hoping the internet connection on both ends is fast enough.
From setup to speaking, it takes just a few minutes and, as long as users don't exceed their data allowance, it's totally free.
There's more in our guide to making cheap international calls here.