It may not be especially exciting to start the year thinking about how best to control your finances, but the truth is that making your money go as far as possible is an important part of modern living. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to grab your money by the tail-end and really take control of your financial situation.
Work out what you’re spending it all on
The first baby-step towards true financial freedom is to figure out how much money you’re bringing in, and where it all goes by the end of the month. This doesn’t mean you have to log every single pound coin you spend on vegan sausage rolls from Gregg’s, but rather what your major, regular expenditures are. It could be anything, from the gym membership you’ve used once a year for the past five years, or the Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+, AppleTV+ and Rakuten accounts you have all of, but never have the time to watch. Write it all down, see what it’s costing you and how often you use it, and then cut anything that’s surplus to requirement. If you’re not sure how to break it down on your own, The Money Advice Service’s Budget Planner is a very thorough way to get started.
Renegotiate your contracts
It’s a tale as old as time. Or, at least, a tale as old as a time when internet companies existed. When it comes to renewing your broadband contract, it’s absolutely imperative that you call your provider and let them know you’re leaving to join one of their competitors. You’re not really leaving, of course, but as soon as you tell them you are, they’ll almost bend over backwards to try and keep you as a customer. Whether it’s Virgin, Sky, or BT, you undoubtedly know someone who’s used this technique to get a much improved deal on their contract. The same can (and should) be done with many other companies across a variety of industries, the top 10 of which were ranked on MoneySavingExpert.com.
Give yourself an allowance
It’s a far from glamourous way to control your spending, but setting yourself a weekly or monthly budget is a sure-fire way to rein in unnecessary expenditure. If you know exactly how much you intended to spend in a given period, it’s much easier to know when and where to spend your money, and when to not bother at all.
The power of saying ‘no’ – without going overboard
The knock-on impact of setting yourself an allowance is that it will truly gift you the superpower of telling people, ‘No.’ Do you want to go to the pub on a Tuesday night with that guy from work who you’re still not sure if you like? No. Do you want to go for a mini-break with your significant other to Grimsby in mid-January? Ideally not. Do you want to go white-water rafting and then bouldering for your cousin’s fiancé’s stag-do? No, thank you.
Bear in mind that there’s a balance to this – you don’t have to say no to everything you like doing because you’re worried you’ll go over budget. This approach is doomed to fail, as you come to resent all the measures you’ve put on yourself that were designed to help. It’s about learning to pick and choose between what you think you probably should do, and what you actually want to do. It’s all about prioritising.
Speaking of priorities, once you’ve cut down the unnecessary extras and worked out how much expendable income you have, now it’s time to figure out what your actual priorities are. Why do you want to have control of your finances? What are your economic goals? It’s much easier to figure out a direct plan for your money if you know what it is that you’re working towards. Whether it’s as big as buying your first house, as simple as finally booking that dream holiday, or as small as actually being able to afford all those TV streaming services, when you have your goal in mind, it’s much easier to make tangible decisions about what to do with your money.
Make your money work harder for you
With a budget planned, contracts negotiated, an allowance carefully calculated and some priorities set, you can now start to get creative in your approach to making your money go the extra mile. Two ways this can be achieved are: 1) saving or 2) investing. Each has specific benefits and shortcomings, but it’s often best to use both to their full potential to really get the most out of your money.
Savings refers to any cash you have in a savings account. This is usually with a bank or building society, and the accounts often have a low interest rate. In terms of safety, it’s a very good place to keep your money, as banks cannot use this money in the stock market and, as long as you’re with a reputable company, it will be protected under the Financial Services Compensation Scheme. This makes a savings account ideal for keeping money towards short-term goals and large, one-off expenditures, like holidays.
The downside to a savings account is that the interest rates can be almost glacial, meaning your savings may be growing so slowly that the rate of inflation could overtake them. This is an issue if you’re keeping a lot of money with no immediate plans to spend or invest it as, while the actual quantity of cash you have will stay the same, its actual value could drop. Effectively, you’ll be able to buy less with the same amount.
This is where investing comes in.
Investing can be a more volatile way for you to save money, and investment companies make no secret of the fact that your capital is at risk if you put it into the stock market. However, with the increased risk comes the increased opportunity for reward, and at a much greater rate than cash savings.
By putting your money into a Share Account, you are able to buy and sell shares on the stock market or invest in Funds. As companies get bigger, your investments can too, and it’s possible to sell your shares at any time for profit. As well as aiming for the value of your investments to grow, big companies such as Tesco or Shell periodically pay out dividends to their shareholders, giving you another stream of income. The risk in this case is the investments you make can drop in value rather than rising, which is why this needs to be money you can confidently set aside without needing it to support yourself. It’s also a good idea to invest for the long term. By giving your investments at least 5 years to develop, you allow them to wait out the inevitable stock market fluctuations.
As well as share accounts, there’s a wide range of Stocks and Shares ISAs (Individual Savings Accounts) too. ISAs are tax-efficient investment accounts that have fixed limits set by the government for how much money you can put in every tax year.
ISAs are another way for you to hold onto and potentially grow your money at a decent pace, without the painfully slow proceeds of a savings account. Just like a Share Account, an ISA carries the same risk of investments dropping in value over the short term, which is why investing needs to be seen as a more long term plan.
Investing is not for everyone, so it’s best to seek financial advice that takes your personal circumstances into account before you start trading.
A bit of extra pocket money
This is not a comprehensive list of how to make your money go that little bit further, but it’s definitely a good start and could encourage some good life-long spending habits. Whatever you end up doing, best of luck for a prosperous 2020.