How are you getting on with those New Year’s Resolutions? Maybe one of your goals was to start managing your money better - it’s a pretty common one. But don’t stress if you’re finding the time of year is making it harder for you to stick to. It’s cold, it’s dark and you’re probably feeling the effects of the Christmas comedown; you might have even sacrificed booze and/or meat for the month.
It’s even tougher if you were paid earlier than usual in December. While it might have seemed like a Christmas miracle at the time, you might now be wondering whose awful idea it was to pay you early. If you’re looking for tips on how to stretch your salary until the end of January, you’ve come to the right place. And we’re not talking about scrimping towards the end of the month, either - it’s just about being proactive and spotting small opportunities to save. Get to grips with the best ways to cut costs while living your best life, this month and every month.
Learn to budget
The best thing about payday (other than the obvious) is that most of us know when it falls. Unless you’re self-employed or working for cash in hand, it’s likely that payday is the same day each month for you. Knowing exactly when you’ll be paid means you can budget to make your money last the full month, without any surprises.
Budgeting can help you feel in control of your money - it’s all about knowing how much you’re taking in and how much is going out. If you look at your bank statements (or your instant notifications, if you use Monzo or Starling) you might be surprised at how much money you’re spending each month on seemingly insignificant things. If you’d rather not trawl through your bank statements, you might prefer this budget planner tool.
If you plan how much you can afford to spend on the essentials, you’ll know how much you have left to play with. This is a great way to make sure you don’t end up eating beans on toast for two weeks straight because you’ve blown your budget elsewhere. Follow our guide on how to budget (and stick to it) here.
Spread the cost of big purchases
If you’ve got any big purchases coming up, but you’re not sure how you’ll afford them, you can spread the cost with a 0% interest purchase card. Maybe you’re planning a summer holiday, but you know that this month’s salary is barely making ends meet as it is. Instead of forking out the cash upfront, you can pay the cost back in instalments without paying interest. Just remember that you’re still borrowing money, so you could be charged if you don’t keep up the repayments.
See if you’re eligible for any purchase cards in the offers section of your ClearScore. Don’t forget to read the terms and conditions before you apply, so you know what to expect from your card. Here’s our guide to credit card T&Cs, if you’re not sure what to look out for.
Don’t waste money on interest
Check that you’re getting the best interest rate on your credit card. It’s just money down the drain if you’re paying over the odds, and you could be eligible for a better deal. A balance transfer card could help you pay off any existing credit card debt at no extra interest, over a few months or even years. With many cards charging low or 0% interest rates, you could save yourself some money in the long run (if used sensibly, of course). Just beware of fees - you might be charged when moving your debt from one card to another.
It’s worth shopping around - you can find the cards with the lowest interest rates in your offers panel (remember that the advertised APR might not actually be what you get). Generally, the higher your credit score, the better the deal you’ll be offered. So if your score’s not as high as you’d like it to be, why not take the time to improve your score before applying for credit? Read our top tips for improving your score to give yourself a head start.
Spring clean your bills…
Overpaying on essential bills like heating and energy? Regularly switching your bills is a surefire way to ensure you’re getting the latest and best deal. It’s the gift that keeps on giving too, as you’ll make ongoing monthly (or quarterly, depending on how you pay) savings.
We’ve written an article all about how to halve your energy bills which you might find handy. If you’d like to see which energy deals you’re eligible for, check the offers section of your ClearScore. With a wide range of deals, from the Big Six, to smaller, greener suppliers, you could save up to £458 by switching*.
The same goes for your phone and broadband bills. Lots of leading brands offer tempting deals in the New Year, so it’s worth doing some research to compare the best ones on the market. And don’t be afraid to negotiate with their sales teams, either. Play hard to get: you could cut your bill in half simply by hanging up the phone and waiting for a call back offering you a cheaper price. This is particularly effective if you’re a long-term customer of the provider, as they won’t want to lose you. It’s also worth doing your research - going sim-free and buying the handset outright might turn out to be the cheaper option.
… and your cupboards
Now’s the perfect time to get rid of any unwanted clothes, or any Christmas gifts that will otherwise sit at home gathering dust. Finally, a chance to say goodbye to the matching bobble hat and mittens Aunt Susan knitted for you! Use Depop to offload clothes, shoes and accessories for cash, and Shpock or Facebook Marketplace for literally everything else (better than eBay if you want cash in hand ASAP). Even if you’re not sure anyone will want your old jam jar collection, it’s worth putting it up for sale anyway - one man’s trash is another man’s treasure!
Another way to get money for your old clothes is to take them to a shop that recycles unwanted belongings. Many high street shops, like H&M and John Lewis, will offer you money or a discount in exchange for the stuff you no longer wear. Some shops will pay you per item and others will give you a fiver for a bag full. It’s much better for the environment than throwing them away, and that extra cash could help to tide you over until the end of the month.
Get the best returns on your savings
If you’re managing to put some money aside each month, good for you! It’s not easy - nearly 10 million households in the UK have no savings at all. (If you’re struggling not to spend, check out our tips for saving without feeling the pinch.) But if you’re not earning decent interest on your savings, it’s as good as stashing your notes under your mattress.
Finding the best savings account for you depends on your savings goal. If you’re saving in order to buy your first home, you might like to consider the Help to Buy scheme or a Lifetime ISA, where the government will give you money towards the property. If you’re hoping to put some cash away for a few years or even later down the line, you can generally get a good interest rate if you lock your money away for a fixed term and promise not to touch it. If you just want to put some money away for a rainy day, a regular or easy-access savings account might be the one for you.
We’ve written a guide comparing 5 popular types of savings account. Once you’ve found an account you like the look of, be sure to check how long you’ll actually receive the stated interest rate for. Often, banks will lure you in with a tempting introductory interest rate which only lasts for 12 months or so. If you’re looking for recommendations for specific savings accounts, have a read of this guide from Which?.
Rethink your food shop
It’s all too easy to rack up an expensive food bill if you’re buying as and when you want something, rather than doing a weekly food shop. Planning your meals for a week and buying everything you’ll need at the weekend is likely to save you a significant sum. And if you find yourself gravitating towards the expensive brands, step away! Lots of supermarkets get their own-brand produce from big-name suppliers anyway, so 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. If you’re cooking a chilli con carne on Monday night, why not make additional portions and take them to work for lunch on Tuesday and Wednesday? And try to make your food go as far as possible: let’s say you’re whipping up a roast chicken on Sunday. Any leftover chicken can be added to a risotto the next day, and you could boil the bones to make a stock for soup or a casserole.
That said, reducing your meat intake is one of the best ways to chop your food bill in half. Not to mention, it’s one of the little things you can do to help save the planet. Meat is notoriously expensive, particularly if you’re buying organic, free-range varieties. And there are plenty of meat substitutes on the market at the moment, so you don’t have to sacrifice the taste. M&S have even brought out vegan chicken nuggets. So try substituting the beef from your chilli for a Quorn alternative and see the difference it makes.
*10% of customers switching their gas and electricity bills with energyhelpline (and their partners) between 1st Jan 2017 and 1st Nov 2018 saved £458 or more. Survey of over 100,000 switches. energyhelpline compares all publicly available energy tariffs under the OFGEM Confidence Code.