New Year money: Fergus Muirhead's top five tips
- 9 January 2013
- From the section Scotland
So that's it over for another year, and all you have to remind you of Christmas 2012 is a hangover, a few extra pounds round the middle and a few pounds missing from your wallet.
Oh, and perhaps a credit card bill that you expect to drop through the letterbox any day now.
Christmas is the biggest spending frenzy of the year, and now it's over there is an opportunity to reflect on your finances for the coming year.
New Year resolutions come and go, and most of us promise to make better use of our money in the year ahead - as well as promising to make more time for ourselves, and lose a bit of weight, and exercise more, and stop smoking, and not drink as much, and spend more time with the kids, and learn another language, and…
Make this year the year you resolve to be efficient with your money - and resolve to keep that resolution. Make it the year you stop wasting money - and that's not the same as stopping spending.
By not wasting money, you need to make sure that you are paying as little as possible to borrow money, paying as little as you can for the bills you need to pay every month, and making as much as possible from the money that you have invested. Oh, and doing it all tax efficiently into the bargain.
So to start you off, here are five things that you can do this year to make sure that your money is well looked after, based on the questions you've been asking me.
And remember that if you need help with any money or consumer issues that you're facing, then drop me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Tip 1 - Plan
Managing your money effectively doesn't just happen. You need to have some sort of plan.
What is it that you want to do with your money and your life, and when do you want to do it? The new house or car or retirement at 55 won't just appear, and the mortgage won't pay itself every month.
You need to plan for them.
The starting point is to sit down and work out what you're trying to do, and when. There are no right or wrong answers to this one, and everyone will have different priorities. You might not even know all of the answers yet, it would be surprising if you did. But you need to ask the questions.
We'll be looking at this area in a lot more detail as the year goes on, but now is the time to begin the process. Start to think about what it is you want and when you want it.
The plan is not a one-off action, but will evolve over time. You won't sit down one day for half an hour and say: "That's it then, that's my financial future sorted, thank goodness I won't have to think about that again for a while."
There are also things you can do which will make a difference immediately.
Tip 2 - Ditch the expensive debt
Make 2012 the year that you get sensible with your credit cards.
Credit cards are great when used properly - and remember that as well as offering a sensible way to pay, they can also offer protection if something goes wrong with the goods or services you are buying.
Look for a credit card with 0% interest. Once that interest free period ends, try to switch any balance to another card that offers the same.
Remember that the money you owe the credit card company is the total balance on your account, not the amount you pay them every month - so if you are going to use a credit card, pay it off as quickly as you can.
Tip 3 - Work out a sensible budget
Work out how much you need to spend every month on essentials and stick to that budget.
For the next month, keep an accurate note of everything you spend.
Be honest! This is the starting point for your budget. Make sure you include the monthly cost of things that you pay annually, like house or car insurance.
Most us get into trouble because we're faced with unexpected expenses and don't have any savings.
Try to save a little every month - you can only do this once you've started the budget above - and keep it in a separate account so that if something turns up that you need to spend money on in a hurry, you won't have to borrow.
Tip 4 - Check out your mortgage rate
If you have had your mortgage for a while, it will be worth looking around to see if there is a better rate available.
Lots of lenders will pay your costs for you if you move your mortgage to them.
Start off by asking your existing lender if they have any other deals as this may be an easier option than moving to a completely different lender.
Remember to check to terms of any new deal. There's no point saving a bit of money now only to find that you're tied in and can't move if your circumstances change.
Tip 5 - Bank on the best account
Lots of current accounts pay very little, and many pay no interest on your savings.
Any cash that you have left at the end of the month should be moved to a savings account with a higher rate of interest.
And on the subject of savings rates, make sure you look around for the best rate you can find for your money.
Inflation is creeping up again and you need to have your money in an account that is paying a rate of interest better than the rate of inflation to make sure you are not losing out.
You can read more on money and consumer issues on my own blog.