With the COVID pandemic making us all a bit more health conscious, and with no end to the products that promise to make you feel better, buying medications and supplements can be pricey amid a cost of living crisis.
To help combat costs, here are some top tips from Which? that can save you money and keep you healthy for less.
1. Choose unbranded or supermarket own-label medicines
Which? found that consumers do not need to spend more on pricier branded products, such as painkillers, antihistamines, and supplements.
It's worth shopping around and opting for cheaper versions when possible, as the savings add up.
For example, full-price branded hay fever tablets can cost 10 times more than a generic version. Similarly, generic ibuprofen or paracetamol packets can cost roughly 30p and contain exactly the same active ingredients as many of the more expensive branded products — and are just as effective for common pain symptoms.
Shoppers can check the product licence (PL) number. If it is the same on two products then they are the same medicine.
Often, the best-value generic medicines can be found in supermarkets and discount stores rather than at the pharmacy.
2. Don't fall for targeted pain relief and think twice about combination meds
Many branded medicines often claim to "target" certain parts of the body, but medicines cannot actually guarantee this.
Nor are some combination medicines necessary — for example, "cold and flu" tablets usually contain caffeine, paracetamol and phenylephrine hydrochloride, a decongestant. However, a similar caffeine effect can be achieved by taking a much cheaper generic paracetamol and drinking a tea or coffee.
3. Keep fit for less
There are several ways to keep fit for free — you could try walking, running, or cycling around your local area if you have a bike.
Otherwise, the free NHS Fitness Studio videos include instructors covering topics from dancing to Pilates to yoga, while its Couch to 5K app caters to runners.
The free Nike Training Club mobile app includes more than 200 videos, covering a wide range of workouts.
There are also a range of free fitness and workout videos available on YouTube.
Before purchasing home-workout equipment, consider joining a cheap local gym instead. Budget gym brands such as Anytime Fitness, The Gym Group and PureGym start from around £10 a month — often on a rolling monthly contract. At that price, it’s possible to train for more than 11 years before equalling the cost of a Peloton bike (from £1,350).
4. Don’t overpay for sunscreen
Consumers do not need to pay extortionate amounts for decent sun protection.
Which? tested popular sunscreens, including five pricey mineral-based creams and eight standard versions from the high street, including cheap supermarket brands, and found the high street products offered good sun protection.
All of the pricier mineral sunscreens tested failed SPF or UVA testing; three products failed both tests.
However, Which? found plenty of highly effective, cheap sunscreens available on the high street, so there is no need to spend over the odds.
5. Consider switching to eco menstrual products
Making the switch to reusable menstrual products could save money.
Which? looked at the upfront costs of reusable period underwear and menstrual cups versus disposable pads and tampons and found that buying pads and tampons could cost £192 over two years, based on a medium flow and 12 periods per year.
Switching to a menstrual cup is likely to be the cheapest option, because they should last around 10 years and typically cost £15 to £30.
However Which? found options costing as little as £10.40. The upfront cost is larger than a pack of tampons or pads, but over time the savings add up.
Reusable period underwear is also a good way to make savings, but it is worth thinking about longevity as well as price.
The cost of living crisis is exacerbating period poverty in the UK, as many people are less able to pay for essential grocery items, including pads and tampons.
Across the UK, young people can usually get free period products at school or college, via a government scheme, as well as at university. Local councils in the UK may provide sanitary products for those who are unable to afford them — check local council websites for information — as do food banks.
6. Pay less for health insurance
For those considering a health insurance policy, it is worth doing your research to pick the right policy the first time. This is because savings from switching can be limited as you age and exclusions may apply for the first few years with a new insurer.
If you already have private health insurance, you could save money by increasing your policy’s excesses, reducing the number of hospitals you can use, or the types of care that are covered.
Sometimes it is possible to switch insurers while maintaining the same terms and exclusions, known as Continued Personal Medical Exclusions underwriting.
7. Avoid expensive toothpaste
Toothpaste brands often release new formulas that make big promises for our dental hygiene, with increasingly high price tags — up to £20 a tube.
Which? asked a panel of dental experts to examine the evidence behind claims on six premium toothpastes and give their verdict on when it is worth spending more — especially as standard fluoride toothpaste is available for as little as £1.
The research found that, while claims were generally supported, the overall benefits of expensive formulations may only be marginal.
Cheaper toothpastes may not make fancy claims or have bold packaging designs. However, if you do not have any particular dental issues, a standard fluoride toothpaste will do the job just fine.
8. Consider whether or not you need to spend on supplements
Many assume there is no harm in taking supplements, but they are not risk-free and can be pricey too.
There are certain nutrients that everybody needs — for instance, it is recommended that everybody takes a vitamin D supplement, especially between October and March in the UK, as we can’t make enough from the sun and it’s difficult to get sufficient levels from diet alone. This is especially important for older people, people with darker skin, or those who keep their skin covered in the sun.
There are some instances where supplements might be necessary, For example, if you exclude certain food groups such as dairy or meat from your diet you might need a supplement to top up calcium, iron or vitamin B12. And as you age it can become harder to absorb calcium and vitamin B12, so older people might need to supplement these, too.
But overall, the evidence shows you can't replace a healthy diet with supplements. Which? found some supplements where the evidence to support their use isn’t conclusive and you could be wasting your money. These include glucosamine, collagen, and Co-enzyme Q10.