What better way to welcome in the new year (and decade) than with a financial fresh start? If, like a lot of us, your bank account’s suffering after an overindulgent festive season, the best thing you can do now is plan for the year ahead and take a step closer to your money goals.
Designed to help you overhaul each area of your financial life - from cutting your debts to making money on the side - our 7-step guide will help you give your money the makeover it needs.
Overhauling your finances: the basics
Making the most of your cash falls into two categories - saving money and making money. While your income is slightly more difficult to change, cutting costs on your outgoings might be easier than you might think (and even if it’s not, it’s definitely worth it). Having said that, there are ways to make money on the side that don’t involve exhausting yourself with night shifts - more on this later. For now, let’s start with how to minimise your expenses.
First, think about how you can save money
1. Pay down your debt
Most people have some form of debt (for example, a mortgage) but when you’re not in control of it or there’s too much of it, your finances and credit score can start to spiral. Plus, being in debt can be very stressful, so taking control of the situation is the best thing you can do for your mental health.
Start by working out how you got into debt. Did you make a big purchase that you couldn’t pay back? Are you simply spending more than you earn? Maybe you took out a payday loan to tide you over, and the interest has stacked up? Understanding the trigger will help you going forwards, as it should prevent you falling back into the same pattern once you’ve cleared your debt.
Making a plan to deal with your debt is the next step. It might seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t need to be. Taking a step-by-step approach is the simplest way to pay off your debts. We’ve made it easy for you: sit down with a pen and paper or your laptop, and work your way through our 8 steps to becoming debt-free. (It’ll help if you have a list of bills to hand before you get started.)
You might want to consider consolidating your debt onto one balance transfer card or loan to make it easier to pay it off. A balance transfer credit card lets you move your existing credit card balance onto a new card, and pay it off at 0% for a set period of time (this will vary based on the card you choose). With a debt consolidation loan, you can turn multiple debt payments into one convenient payment - try to find a loan with a lower interest rate than what you’re paying on your outstanding debt to cut costs further.
2. Switch and save on household bills
If you want to make speedy savings, take a look at your utility bills. You could save a significant amount by switching your gas and electricity providers. Unfortunately, loyalty isn’t rewarded in the energy industry, which means you could get a cheaper deal by moving to a different provider after the first year. Check your energy offers on ClearScore today to see how much you could save.
Similarly, if you have a mortgage, you might be able to free up some cash by remortgaging. It tends to make sense only if you can get a better deal than the one you’re currently on, for example, if you can reduce your interest rates or get more flexibility. Get a quote in 15 seconds on ClearScore and see whether you could save by remortgaging.
Food shops are another easy way to cut costs with just a bit of extra planning (this could help you cut costs by up to 50%). It’s all too easy to rack up an expensive bill if you’re buying as and when you want something, rather than doing a weekly food shop.
Remember that lots of supermarkets get their own-brand produce from the same big-name suppliers. So if you’re buying expensive brands, chances are you’re just paying for fancy packaging.
Batch cooking is a great way to prevent food wastage. Use this portion planner to work out how much food you’ll need for each person, for each meal. While you’re at it - make it vegetarian. Meat is notoriously expensive, particularly if you’re buying organic, free-range varieties, and there are plenty of meat substitutes on the market now.
While you might not think you can change how much you pay for council tax, it’s worth checking you’re being charged the right amount as many people aren’t. Lots of council tax bands went up in April, so you might be overpaying. It only takes 10 minutes to check - you can do so here.
If you don’t check your bank statements very often, you might have a host of direct debits set up that you didn’t realise you were paying. For example, subscriptions you set up years ago that you no longer use, or services that are no longer even valid (like expired phone insurance). This is just money down the drain, so take five minutes and do an audit of your direct debits.
3. Cut your insurance costs
Insurance might be a necessary evil, but it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. Car insurance, for example, is a legal requirement, but ClearScore can make the whole process quicker, simpler and - most importantly - cheaper.
If you’re renewing your insurance or looking for your first policy, see if you could save when you get a quote on ClearScore today. Before you do, make sure to check out our 7 tips for getting cheaper car insurance.
Whether you’re a homeowner or a renter, it’s a good idea to have contents insurance. Home insurance gives you the peace of mind of knowing that your stuff is covered if the unexpected happens. To score a cheaper policy, consider increasing your excess, building up your no-claims discount and installing a burglar alarm.
When you’re ready, get a home insurance quote in one click on ClearScore and start saving those precious pennies.
4. Make a budget
Now is the perfect time of year to get organised and make a budget. Sit down and work out how much you spend every month vs what comes in every month, and see where you’re at. This is a key part of overhauling your finances (and maintaining them).
Budgeting isn’t about saving every penny you earn and saying no to socials for the next decade, but about creating better money habits and familiarising yourself with the state of your bank account. It’s about knowing if you’re spending more than you earn each month and, if so, deciding how much you want to spend and where you can make cuts.
A lot of people disregard budgets because they tend to overestimate how much they’re capable of saving and underestimate how much they need to spend on essentials, like groceries and travel. If this is the case, no sooner than you’ve started following your budget will you have broken it.
So creating a budget that’s realistic and affordable is half the hurdle. Once you’ve done this, sticking to it will be significantly easier. And it doesn’t have to be boring, either - check out these fun ways to save for some inspiration.
If you’re not sure how to go about making a budget, we’ve written this helpful guide. It’s split into three simple stages and includes tips for sticking to your newly formed spending habits. At the end, you’ll have a much better idea of how much money you’ve got to play with and how much you can save.
5. Check your credit score
A high credit score is your ticket to cheaper deals on everything from credit cards to loans and even insurance. Lenders are more likely to offer you better deals if you have a good credit score, as it’s a sign you’re capable of handling credit and repaying it on time. For example, you’re more likely to be accepted for 0% credit card deals and lower interest rates on loans and mortgages.
If you’ve already got a high score, well done! That’s the tricky part done, though it’s worth knowing how to maintain your score if you want to continue benefitting from it. If your score could use a little TLC, follow these 10 steps to a great credit score before you apply for any credit. Once your score has improved, you should notice a difference in the type (and range) of offers available to you.
Don’t forget to check your monthly credit report to understand what’s affecting your score in more detail - you’ll get actionable tips to help you improve your finances.
Second, think about savvy ways to make money
6. Consider every avenue
When it comes to refreshing your finances, making what money you do have work harder for you is a no-brainer.
Get a credit card that gives you more
Spending with a cashback credit card means you’ll be rewarded for making purchases that you’d be making anyway. So if you’re paying for essentials with cash or a debit card, switch to a cashback card to get a percentage of your spending back, or try a rewards card if you’d rather earn air miles and freebies.
You can see which cards are available to you on ClearScore - we show you a bespoke list of the right cards for your financial circumstances, so you can trust you’re getting a good deal.
Maximise your savings
If you’re lucky enough to have some savings, make sure they’re in the best place to grow. Keeping them in the regular savings account that came free with your current account means you’re unlikely to be getting the most bang for your buck.
You can compare the best savings accounts for you on ClearScore - if you apply, you’ll receive a welcome bonus of £100* from our partner, Raisin, as a thank you.
Take on a side hustle
If you want to go above and beyond, and asking for a pay rise at your current job isn’t feasible, there are a number of other ways to make some extra cash. From taking on a part-time driving position at Uber to renting out your spare room on Airbnb, taking on a side hustle is a savvy way to bring home the bacon in your spare time. If you have a lot of time on your hands, you could try turning your hand to online surveys, or why not sign up to be a paid extra in TV shows?
Waste not want not
Not got the time for another job? Selling your unwanted things is a quick way to make money (although it’s not guaranteed to bring you regular income) - download Depop to offload your old clothes, or try Shpock for things like furniture, old mobile phones and games consoles.
Last but not least…
7. Take some time to reflect
Reflecting on your past behaviours when it comes to money is key to making lasting changes. Are there any areas that haven’t gone so well in the last year? What have you learned from these ‘mistakes’?
Whether you spent days perfecting an unrealistic budget or you spent too much on life’s little luxuries, consider where your weaknesses lie so you can turn these around. It’s not about being hard on yourself - being self-aware is hugely important when it comes to making lifestyle changes, and you might even learn something about yourself.
Looking ahead to this year and beyond, what are your money goals? Maybe you want to get your foot on the property ladder, or it could be something as simple as learning how to invest. Whatever it is, consider the steps you need to take now in order to reach your goal. We find that writing your dreams down and telling someone about them is the best way to keep yourself on track and hold yourself accountable.
Now you know the 7 steps to overhauling your finances, it’s over to you! Set some time aside to start your money makeover this January - let’s make 2020 the best year yet.
*You can claim a welcome bonus of up to £100 for funding your first savings product through Raisin’s marketplace (terms and conditions apply).