There seems to be a lot of talk about dieting this month - and it's not just about bulging waistlines, but also because of squeezed household budgets.
Source: Kalpana Fitzpatrick
You may have read recently about a woman who saved £22,000 by taking up a no spend year challenge.
My first reaction to this was that it was a complete waste of life. Saving money isn't about making sacrifices that you may regret in years to come.
But looking back, I can understand why she decided to embark on such a journey. It is a natural human reaction to apply extreme measures when tackling serious problems.
If you think you're overweight, the first thing you may do is go on some kind of crazy crash diet - but we all know the ultimate result is failure.
Unless you make a lifestyle change, it is unlikely that you will achieve fat control over the long term.
The same applies to money - when it's out of control, a no spend day, month or a year may sound like a great solution, but it is inevitable that as soon as you complete the challenge, you will want to go on a spending spree - stock up on those luxuries that you missed out on and allow yourself treats and extra spending moments.
I know if I have a no chocolate week, I tend to allow myself extra the following week.
The only real way you can achieve financial freedom is to make lifestyle changes, sustainable ones that don't stop you missing out on life all together.
I spoke to a friend last week who has never changed her bank account. She is always in credit and uses it for direct debits. She gets nothing from her bank. I got her to switch - she not only benefited from a switching bonus of £100 but now also gets £5 a month in interest.
Another friend told me she always blows her shopping budget because she has to go into the shops for milk or bread regularly and ends up buying other stuff. I asked her to consider a ordering from a milkman or to buy filtered milk in an online shop. She hasn't been in the supermarket all week and agrees it has saved her over £50, as although she may pay a little more for milk, she isn't going on an unplanned spending spree.
And then there's meal planning - this is a game changer for any household.
Plan your weekly meal and you will save time and money. Random dinners always result in food waste or a trip to the supermarket, which you can avoid by simply planning meals ahead, and of course when you do shop, check your cupboards and don't buy what you already have.
These are just some simple measures - there really is no need to crash diet with your money.
Spend wisely and you know you can do it, in the same way you know if you eat wisely and exercise, you can do it.
So, before you kick-start a no spend month or year, think again and take a good look at where your money is actually going and review everything.
To help you out, I've added a few more pointers below.
Extreme money saving measures to avoid:
• Bulk buying - this is great, within reason, but really, who needs 10 rolls of cling film or 20 bottles of washing up liquid? Buy sensibly.
• Wombling - if you haven't heard of it, then maybe it's just as well. It's a money saving craze where you hang around supermarkets and pick up disregarded receipts to take advantage of uncollected loyalty points or price promise guarantees. Is this worth the time and effort?
• Yellow sticker items - these are great, but don't just buy food because it has a yellow sticker on it, only buy if you plan to eat it. Yellow stickers can be just as bad as buy one get one free offers or three for two deals - you end up buying what you don't really need.
• 3 for 2 promotions - think carefully, these are not always the deals you think they are. These promotions are marketing techniques and often the original price would have been priced very high and then reduced, making it look like a deal when in fact it isn't.
The government's Money Advice Service research showed that hard-pressed families added an extra £1,000 a year to their grocery bill by spending on deals they didn't understand.
• Squeeze the toilet roll to make it last longer. Seriously, how annoying is toilet roll that doesn't roll?
• Buy big shoes and clothes for your kids to make them last. Be sensible - clothes and shoes will wear out way before they grow into them.
• Time is money - if something takes you hours to do, ask yourself if it's worth it. I've seen people spend hours writing to brands in hope for some coupons, for example. Unless time isn't important to you, focus your energy on making lifestyle changes to really save money.
There are of course hundreds of changes you can make to make manage your finances, I've listed some here:
• Switch and ditch - review all your services providers to make sure you are always on the best deal. Do this regularly with energy, TV/broadband packages, phone, insurance and so on. You will save hundreds of pounds.
• Save regularly - Put a small amount into savings via direct debit each month. It will soon add up.
• Use your ISA allowance. You can put away £15,240 this tax year, so take advantage. Make sure you always get the best rate and if you are putting it away for the long-term, look at an investment ISA. Read more about ISAs on my blog here.
• Walk or cycle - do this for short distances to save on petrol.
• Take lunch from home. Let's face it, those shop made sandwiches are horrid and overpriced. Taking lunch from home will save you a packet.
• Meal plan - Have three to four meal plans for the family and rotate each week. Shop for the ingredients online to avoid 'special deals' that result in you overspending at the supermarket.
• Take advantage of a workplace pension - even if old age is far away, you need to save as young as possible and if your employer offers you a pension, take it, because when you pay in, so do they. By saying no, you are saying no to free money.
• De-clutter and sell unwanted items - sell online or head down to a boot sale.
• Use cashback sites - these are a great way to pocket extra cash. You can read more about these over at my blog Mummy Money Matters.
• Start saving for Christmas now. Yes, I know it has only just passed, but with reports of households spending over £1k during the festive period and are now in debt, it's time to start putting away for it now.
• Budget - make a budget for everything and stick to it.
Good luck with your savvy New Year.
This article was first seen on MummyMoneyMatters.com