Spring is the perfect time to freshen up your family’s finances. Here’s how to make a little go a long way.
First step: Do your paperwork
Why? Any spring clean should start with tidying up, and that includes financial paperwork. See all those old, unopened statements you have lying around? Open them up, look at where your money is going, and then file them away for your records. (Putting them in a simple box file is fine). “A regular look at what you are spending and where can act as a real eye opener,” says Kim Stephenson, psychologist and financial adviser.
Making a budget will save you time, effort and money
Only a third of people in the UK set a weekly or monthly budget according to Standard Life, and more of us could do with making one.
So start your spring clean by making a family budget. (It needn't be a nightmare - we'll show how to put together a budget in under 30 minutes using our free online tool). Making a budget will save you time, effort and money. It'll be 30 minutes well spent!
Make it easier: You might want to consider having a separate bank account for household bills to help make budgeting even easier. See making a family budget for more information.
Second step: Save, save and save again
Why? You could be spending cash without realising it. Go back to those old bank statements (that are now sitting neatly in that box file!) and check for any regular direct debits or standing order payments. Chances are there will be at least a few you don't really need. Be brutal. Ask yourself whether you really need that gardening magazine subscription or gym membership.
Go for the 'quick-win' money-savers first
Some other effective money-savers:
- Childcare: Check you're getting all the help with childcare costs you can - if you're on a medium to low income, you could get up to 70% of your childcare costs back (but many families don't realise this)
- Mortgage: Consider re-mortgaging. If you're willing to shop around to get the best deal on a TV or a CD, then why not shop around for the really big things? Talk to an independent financial adviser about your options (remember to take into account transfer charges and legal fees before switching). Find out more about remortgaging.
- Food and essentials: Make sure you're getting the best deal with our weekly supermarket price checker, which can help cut the cost of your essentials.
Even the most diligent money saver needs to stay on their toes to make sure they are paying the lowest possible tariff on their phone, energy, broadband and mobile deals. You may not even have to switch, check with your current provider what rate you are paying.
Make it easier: Don’t be afraid to tell energy, phone and broadband providers that you’ll look elsewhere for a better deal; they may offer you a loyalty bonus. See how to haggle a bargain. If they still won't offer you anything, see our guide to switching your provider.
Third step: Check what you have
Why? You may be richer than you realise. If you have a company pension scheme then you are not only saving tax, you may also have other add-on benefits. According to protection adviser Alan Lakey many of us receive extras through our employers we don’t realise.
For example if you have a pension you may also receive what is known as a death-in-service benefit, which is a form of life assurance that pays out a lump sum equivalent to four times your annual salary.
Your company may also provide extras like life insurance, and critical illness, but you need to make sure you are signed up for them.
According to Standard Life, just one in six of us make the most of tax breaks from products like ISAs.
Make the most of your ISA allowance
Julie Russell at Standard Life said: “It’s so important to make sure we are getting the best returns on anything we are actually able to save. That means using ISAs which are really tax efficient, and not missing out on tax breaks offered by private pension contributions, for example. Efficiently managing whatever we are able to save can make a huge difference to both our weekly budget and our long term plans.”
Make it easier: The Citizen's Advice Bureau have a nifty free online benefits calculator, so you can quickly check whether you're getting everything your family is entitled to. And if you need to earn a bit of extra cash on the side, have a look at these top ways to make money from home.
Final step: How to spend it?
Why? Because having goals can help you save and act as an incentive to budget.
There is no harm in having dreams; in fact they could be achievable goals in the long term. Kim says: “You can have a short term goal, such as to save up for a holiday, a medium term goal to move home, or a long-term goal of changing career.”
Make it easier: Sit down and discuss with your family what they’d like to do – it’s a great way to get everyone saving.