Money Insider: Get back to basics if you want to sort out your finances

 

Many people will have made a new year resolution to sort out their money matters – it's probably among the top three 2012 promises, alongside losing a weight and doing a bit more exercise.

With the Christmas credit-card statements set to hit the doormat in the next few weeks, at the same time as the big winter gas and electricity bills, it's not surprising that people are concerned about getting their finances back on track at this time of year.

But getting to grips with your finances isn't a five-minute job and requires plenty of self-discipline, as well as being prepared to be ruthless and accepting a little discomfort along the way.

Just telling yourself you need to be better with your money and a bit more careful with your spending won't be enough to turn your fortunes around and rid you of that overdraft; it's all about going back to basics and adopting a new mindset and a structured plan.

The first step is to look at exactly where your money goes, so you'll need to take a look at your last three months' bank and credit-card statements. Write out a monthly budget and list everything you currently pay out.

Don't forget to include a contribution to those annual bills such as the MOT for the car, holidays, birthdays and Christmas.

Once you've got the list in place, you should look at each item in turn and ask yourself two questions: can I manage without it, and can I reduce the amount I'm paying?

For some items such as gym membership, dental insurance and magazine subscriptions, it could be as simple as cancelling your standing order. At the other end of the scale, however, when it comes to things like council tax, there's nothing you can do to cut the cost.

But in terms of your mortgage, gas, electric, water, telephone and broadband payments, you should look at ways of reducing your costs, either by switching provider, changing your tariff or in some instances trying to cut down on your consumption.

Another exercise that is essential if you are to improve your financial well-being is to identify where your cash goes. While your list of outgoings details your standing orders and debit and credit-card payments, it doesn't show where that £50 or £100 from the ATM is being spent.

Carry a notebook with you or use your smartphone to record everything you spend. It's a real eye-opener and can help you identify where you can cut back and make some quick savings.

Only when you've got a grip on where your money goes can you start to improve matters by using the cash you've freed up to start repaying your most expensive debts.

It's not a five-minute job, and a financial makeover requires a concerted effort and some will-power, but much like losing weight or getting fitter, the effort will be well worth it in the long run.

Surprise gift for Co-op customers

It has been a predictable start to the New Year with high street banks displaying January Sale posters in their windows in a bid to lure new customers and meet the 2012 targets sent down from head office.

It's all very well going all out to win new business, but what's on offer for the millions of existing customers who've remained loyal for years? As usual, absolutely zilch!

Fortunately, not all financial providers are the same, so it's refreshing to see the Co-operative Bank giving something back to its customers.

Any Co-operative Bank customer with an agreed overdraft limit won't have to pay interest on their borrowing for the first three months of this year. The post-Christmas period is a financial struggle for many people, so this gesture will be warmly welcomed, more so because it has come out of the blue.

The amount of money saved by Co-op customers isn't going to be life-changing, but the fact it shows it cares will pay dividends in the long run as people will feel valued and be far less likely to switch to a rival bank.

A customer with a £2,000 overdrawn balance will save £74 over the next three months while someone borrowing £800 will be almost £30 better off under the terms of this interest-free deal.

There's always plenty of competition and financial incentives on the table for new customers, but keeping people on board for the long term is important too, so well done to Co-operative Bank for daring to be different and giving something back.

Andrew Hagger – Moneynet.co.uk

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