All The Best Resolutions Start In February: 15 Realistic Ways To Save In 2016

The vast majority of January resolutions have come and gone by now. Those short-lived, unrealistic, overambitious targets, that are designed to make us feel even worse about the coldest and most cash-strapped time of the year.

This is no surprise, it's also no great loss, because it gives us time to wipe the slate clean in February, and set the kind of simple, achievable goals that really will help you save a packet in 2016.

Here are 15 realistic ways to save money this year.

1. Be realistic about debt

In January, debt resolutions tend to be about clearing debts in record time - possibly through the use of a 0% credit card so you stop paying interest on it entirely. However, our experience last month will have taught us that paying too much debt off will just leave us borrowing again at the end of the month. And if we continually miss our targets, then when our 0% deal ends, we'll still be in debt.

Now is the time to be realistic, and work out what you can actually afford to pay off each month. If this means you'll repay your debts within the promotional 0% period, then great. If not, then you'll either need to remember to switch the debt before it runs out, or opt for a low interest long-term loan or credit card, with no penalties for overshooting your target.

2. Shop small

We all know the January resolution: plan your meals, make a list, and stick to it. Even those who do brilliantly on the first count tend to fall apart on the last one by the end of January. When you're making your list, you're not to know you'll be working late on Wednesday or that you'll pop round to a friend's for lunch over the weekend - leaving you to throw away the fresh ingredients you bought for those meals.

Unless your week is mysteriously easy to predict, it's best to cut the shopping into two or three chunks, and shop for a few days at a time. It gives you the chance to be flexible without the food going off, and it forces you to assess what is in the fridge and the freezer every few days, so that nothing goes off and nothing extra is bought.

3. Make one of those trips to a market

Take an old supermarket receipt with you, so you know what you usually pay for your fresh produce, and when you spot something on your shopping list for half or a third of the price that you'd usually pay at the supermarket, you can feel rightly proud of your efforts.

4. Learn to leave the supermarket with whatever you came for

The art of the small shop is to get just the things you want from each shop - and no more. If you find yourself picking up a few bits and pieces each time, it'll soon add up to more than you were spending on the one big shop. If you go in for milk, leave with milk, not a ready meal, a bottle of wine and a DVD.

5. Make use of your freezer

You'll be checking the fridge and the freezer every couple of days, so you'll have plenty of warning over when something needs to be frozen. A bulging freezer means an empty bin - and is actually more efficient to keep cold too.

6. Swear off ready meals

Cooking from scratch costs a fraction of the price. It's why it tends to be on a number of New Year's resolution lists. The problem is that it rarely makes it to February, because it's too ambitious. There are two ways to make this work for you.

First is to have a cook up once a week or once a fortnight, where you make a batch of something and freeze it. That way you've got options on those days when you come home and can't be bothered to cook.

The second is to bear in mind that meals don't have to be elaborate to count. Shoving a chicken breast and a potato cut into wedges in the oven takes about as much energy as getting pre-prepared chicken and chips out of the freezer. Heat up some peas and there's a meal, cooked from scratch, with less than a minute of preparation time. If you stop expecting culinary fireworks on a weeknight, you're far more likely to stick with cooking from scratch.

7. Make packed lunches easier

How many people swore they'd take in packed lunches, only to fail when they sleep in or run out of enthusiasm for sandwich-making? If you don't have the energy to make a packed lunch in the morning, consider whether there are any alternatives.

If you have a kitchen at work with a fridge, there's nothing stopping you taking in bread, a filling, and butter and doing the lot at lunchtime. They may even have a toasted sandwich maker so you can ring the changes, or a microwave, so you can bring in leftovers or cook a baked potato. It's the easiest way to save £5 a day, so wipe "oversleeping" off your reasons for failing to stick with the plan.

8. Work to your strengths

We tend to build resolutions around weaknesses, but you should try a few tailored to your strengths, which are much easier to keep. When everyone in the household does this, you'll be surprised how many of the bases you'll cover.

If one of you is more organised than the other, put them in charge of the to-do list. If one of you tends to have more energy, then schedule more of the tasks for them. If one of you spends half your life surfing the web, they can be in charge of price comparison. This doesn't mean saddling one person with all the tasks, but thinking really carefully about how everyone can pitch in.

9. Build a "planning ahead" ritual

You might have made a resolution to be more organised, but if you haven't made any time for it, it's just going to go on your never-ending to do list. It's worth doing this at the start of the month, when you have plenty of room in your budget. Set aside half an hour - possibly with your partner - and look ahead two months to see if there are any activities planned for which you can buy tickets in advance and save money.

10. Use the second half of this for long-term plans

Also look at any forthcoming major expenses over the next 12 months - such as insurance renewal, car tax or a holiday. Give yourself time to plan far enough ahead in order to spread the cost enough to make each one affordable.

It's worth making this ritual as painless as possible, so pick a time when you're likely to be relaxed and in a problem-solving frame of mind, and then make sure you take the time to pat each other on the back for your impressive organisational skills. That way it's a ritual, which will fit easily into your life, rather than a row to be dreaded each month.

11. Look at how you spend your time - and what it costs

If your resolution was to spend less on going out, then it's going to fail unless you find an alternative. You need to work out your expensive habits, and see whether there's a cheaper alternative.

This can be a direct swap - so a cheaper independent cinema instead of an expensive chain, or arranging with a friend to go round to each other's house for dinner on alternate weeks rather than eating out.

Alternatively, it can be a complete change. So if, for example, you tend to spend Saturday browsing your way around the shops, switch it for a morning browsing a museum, or walking in the woods. If you just sit at home feeling miserable that you can't do any of the things you enjoy, there's no way you'll be able to stick with it.

12. Share the load for shopping around

Wise New Year's resolutions will include shopping around for energy, phone, broadband, media and insurance. It's by far the easiest way to save hundreds of pounds every year. However, even with price comparison sites making things simpler, if it falls to one member of the household every time, it's easy to be overwhelmed by the fact there are so many things to search for.

If you take it in turns, and give each other a week to track down the best deal, then you won't ever feel under too much pressure or overwhelmed. It means you'll have broken the back of most of them in a month, and you'll only face the job once more each during the year when your insurance comes up for renewal.

13. Swap specialisms

You can share the load in a more coordinated way with friends and family. If you're a great cook and someone else is a dab hand in the garden, then offer to batch cook them a huge lasagna while they sort the garden out. Likewise, if you don't mind cleaning, but you're a klutz with a screwdriver, then you could clean someone's home while they come round and sort out your drippy taps and wobbly door handles. That way you can complete your resolutions without having to master anything new or work out of your comfort zone.

14. Get to grips with YouTube

YouTube isn't just for teenagers to watch each other play computer games, it's also a brilliant tool to help you complete almost any of the DIY New Year's resolutions you are putting off.

One of the best ways to use it is when you get an error message on a piece of household equipment - or it simply stops working. If you do a search for the model of the machine and the fault, you'll get a handful of videos that will explain the problem and how to fix it.

Sometimes it'll mean buying a small part and saving about £150 on getting an expert in to fix it. Other times, it will show you the simple tricks for overcoming problems with various models, and you can sort it without any parts or equipment in a matter of minutes.

It's also great for learning the kinds of DIY tricks you never understood. So whether you need to change a washer or hang some wallpaper, you can watch someone talk you through it clearly before you go anywhere near the job.

15. Start again in March

The great joy of rolling resolutions is that if you fall short on any of them, then the answer isn't to give up, it's to make sticking to the resolution easier.

Each time you fail, take a bit of time to work out what went wrong, and how you can make it easier to stick to, then roll up your sleeves and start again in March, April, and May. By the end of 2016 you'll have mastered the art of sticking to all your resolutions, so that next January all you'll have left to resolve is to stick with the fantastic habits you have developed.