Everyone starts the new year with the best of intentions, fully determined to drink less, exercise more and get their finances in better shape.
But by the time February rolls around, that determination for a fresh approach, a new start, is usually starting to wane. It’s all too easy to fall back into those old habits, leaving your finances in rough shape once again.
So what can you do to make sure that your paycheck lasts, not just during the shortest month of the year, but all year round?
Get serious about budgeting
Working out a proper budget may seem like a pain, but it’s incredibly effective when it comes to managing your money properly. Sit down and go through your old bank statements to see exactly how much you are spending each month, and precisely where that money is going.
You may be able to spot a few areas where you can afford to cut back a little, from regular takeaways to trips to the coffee shop to “impromptu” drinks after work, which will help you free up a little extra cash each month.
You can then work out exactly how much you can afford to spend on your various different outgoings each month, and still have some money left over.
Check in every day
The challenge now will be sticking with that budget.
Thankfully there are loads of great budgeting apps that you can install on your phone which can help keep you on track on a day-to-day basis, including MoneyDashboard.
These apps will often categorise your spending, so you can see quickly if you’re getting a bit carried away with the shopping allowance for the month, while you can generally set goals too if you’re looking to save up for something specific, such as a new car or holiday.
It’s very easy to go through the process of setting a budget, but then not actually monitor how your actual spending is measuring up against your budgeted spending. Really you need to check in with how you are doing on a regular basis, ideally every day but at least every couple of days.
This way you won’t be hit by any unpleasant surprises come the end of the month.
Trim your bills
One of the biggest differences you can make to your monthly outgoings is getting your bills under control.
So if you haven’t shopped around for a new deal on your energy, your broadband and your mobile phone in a while, now is an excellent time to look at these bills in more detail.
When it comes to broadband and mobile phones, many of us are paying for features we don’t actually use, whether that’s super-fast speeds that aren’t actually achievable in your area or minutes and text messages that we don’t need. Moving to a more appropriate deal, that matches your use, will almost certainly save you cash.
As for energy bills, according to industry body Energy UK 2018 was a record year for switching, with more than 5.8 million households moving to a new deal in order to cut their bills. You can do it yourself through a price comparison site, or make use of one of the handful of new ‘auto-switching’ sites which find a cheap deal for you and keep on switching every year or so in order to save you money, such as weflip and flipper.
I love a bargain
Many of us prefer to do our shopping online now, whether it’s picking out a new outfit or sorting out the weekly grocery shopping. It’s not just a question of convenience either - if you’re smart about it, shopping online can save you a packet too, and so help your money to last.
For example, before you spend any money online be sure to have a quick search around the likes of VoucherCodes.co.uk and MyVoucherCodes to see if there are any discount vouchers available for the store you’re looking to spend with.
It’s also a good idea to make use of a cashback website where possible too, like Quidco or TopCashback. These sites are paid a referral fee when you visit a retailer via the tracked links on their site, and they then pass a chunk of that fee onto you in the form of cashback.
The sums may seem small, but if you use a cashback site every time you shop online, the money quickly adds up.
Between the discounts and the cashback, your money will go that much further when you do need to spend.
Do I really need it?
Of course, one of the big reasons that many of us get into budgeting difficulties is because we end up spending money on things we don’t actually need or that we don’t have the money for.
As such, before you buy anything it’s good to ask yourself two key questions. Firstly, do I really need it? This isn’t about simply wanting something - I might fancy some new trainers, but if I’ve already got a couple of pairs in decent shape, then it’s difficult to argue that it’s really a necessary purchase.
The other important question is of course can I afford it? Do I have the cash at hand to cover this purchase, or would I need to make use of credit? If I do spend on this item, what is it that I’m giving up buying instead?
Spending on a credit card can be a smart move generally - card purchases provide additional protection in the event something goes wrong, while some cards allow to pay off your balance in stages without incurring interest or reward you when you spend.
However, it’s all too easy to get into trouble with credit card spending. According to statistics from The Money Charity, the average household owes £2,668 on credit cards, and many of those won’t be on interest-free deals. As such, that’s debt that can quickly snowball up to unaffordable levels.
It may be worth budgeting some ‘treat’ spending into your monthly budgets, so that you can occasionally pick up something that isn’t exactly an essential purchase, without needing to feed overly guilty about it.
It’s good to talk
As Brits, we don’t tend to like talking about money. This isn’t always the most helpful approach though - talking about your money concerns is not only a good way to get advice from your friends and family, it can also help to keep you on the straight and narrow if you are trying to get a grip of your budgeting.
So talk to someone about your attempts to make your money go further, and check in with them every now and again to update them. By essentially forcing yourself to be accountable to a loved one, you are more likely to stick with it than drop it like those other new year’s resolutions that don’t last beyond January.