Whatever your income, staying on top of your finances and making sure every penny counts is an important part of getting your life under control. While tackling budgets and bills isn’t exactly a picnic for most us, getting to grips with our spending ultimately frees up valuable time and energy.
Of course if things get really bad, there are a handful of free and independent advice services available, like the government’s Money Advice Service and Citizen’s Advice Bureau, but these expert tips should get you started and move you towards a financially savvy (and stress-free) life.
Draw Up A Budget
It might seem like obvious advice but how many of us actually manage to keep track of our spending (be honest!)? Keeping a record of all your incomings and outgoings is the essential first step when it comes to regaining control of your money, and it will instantly show you where you can make cutbacks. The <a href="https://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk/en/tools/budget-planner">Money Advice Service</a> offers an online budget planner, which makes things a little less overwhelming.
Make Your Savings Work Harder
If you’re fortunate enough to have a nest egg tucked away it’s all too easy to rest on your laurels and let them do their own thing. “Make sure you're getting the best interest rate on your savings,” advises the <a href="http://www.adviceguide.org.uk/england/debt_e.htm">Citizen’s Advice Bureau</a>. “Read any terms and conditions carefully to make sure they're what you are looking for. If you're not sure about anything, ask the savings provider or get independent financial advice.”
Check Your Household Bills
“Look carefully at your spending and see if there is anything you're able to cut down on. For example, you could shop around for a cheaper gas or electricity provider,” says the Money Advice Service. The organisation advises using an online calculator to help work out whether you can save by having a water meter installed. Sites like <a href="http://www.ccwater.org.uk">Consumer Council for Water</a> or <a href="www.uswitch.com/water">uSwitch</a> will help you make an informed decision. Similarly for energy bills, try the <a href="http://www.energysavingtrust.org.uk">Energy Saving Trust</a>.
Review Your Mortgage
New mortgage deals are coming on the market all the time, and you should try to keep a regular eye out for the best deals around if you’re not locked into a fixed period. The <a href="https://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk/en/action_plans/get-free-financial-advice">Money Advice Service</a> recommends that at the very least you review your mortgage when interest rates change, because this will affect how competitive your current deal is. Also try to shop around for deals once a year if you’re not tied into a mortgage that enforces early repayment penalties.
Become A Smarter Shopper
If you can train yourself to be more self-aware as a shopper, it can do wonders for your pocket. Comparing prices and shopping online could save you hundreds of pounds every year on everything from groceries to clothes and electrical goods. The Money Advice Service recommends <a href="http://www.mysupermarket.co.uk/">My Supermarket</a> for checking out the best deals, as well as sites like <a href="http://www.google.co.uk/shopping">Google Shopping</a> and Kelkoo http://www.kelkoo.co.uk/. <a href="http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/shopping/cheap-supermarket-shopping">Money Saving Expert</a> offers plenty of handy recommendations – from being savvy to supermarkets’ subliminal selling tactics to learning the beauty of brand ‘downshifting’.
”You may find it helpful to set up standing orders and direct debits to pay your bills”, suggest the <a href="http://www.adviceguide.org.uk/england/debt_e.htm">Citizen’s Advice Bureau</a>. “Arrange for payments to leave your account soon after your pay date. If you can, try and save some money each month as a general savings plan or to cover emergencies when they arise.”