New year's resolutions come and go, but there's one that will reward you handsomely with very little effort - and that's deciding to sort out your finances in January. Set up a high-earning savings account with a monthly direct debit payment from your current account.
Thanks to the Teachers Building Society, one lucky reader of the Wealthy Teacher column will find themselves pound;250 richer by next month. The winner of our competition (see details, right) will have the cash placed in a TBS savings account.
But you don't have to win our competition to start to make your money work for you. The TBS advises that you take a serious look at bank statements and credit card bills. Then shop around for a 0 per cent balance transfer deal and aim to pay off your debts in the interest-free period.
Andrew Hagger of online financial experts, Moneyfacts, says that if you are facing credit card debts and an overdraft, then it's worth considering taking out a personal loan to mop up the lot. Make a note of your exact monthly income and all your outgoings. Don't forget those one-off payments each year for servicing the burglar alarm or boiler. Take a look at your mobile phone tariff. Could you get a cheaper one? How about that cable TV package?
Think carefully about being lured by the new year deals on offer at the local gym. It's estimated that up to pound;200m is wasted each year in lapsed or unused membership fees. A third of those who sign up in January won't even go once a week by February.
It's worth checking that your home insurance is up-to-date. You are more likely to make a claim for burglary or flooding in January than any other month.
It is also an excellent time to reassess your mortgage. "If you haven't got much spare cash, make sure you have a fixed-rate mortgage so you know exactly what your outgoings are going to be every month and you can budget," says Mike Hislop of the TBS, which provides mortgages tailored to suit teachers' needs. See www.teachersbs.co.uk, shop around for the best deals or take advice from an independent financial adviser. See www.unbiased.co.uk for one in your area.
If you look carefully enough, there may even be some "free" money out there. Check with www.hmrc.gov.uk to see whether you're missing out on any tax credits - pound;2.6 billion goes unclaimed each year.
Finally, if you are a saver rather than a borrower, make sure you are using your tax allowances fully. You have until April 5 to open an ISA. You can invest up to pound;3,000 in a cash ISA and a further pound;4,000 in a stocks and shares ISA. So now the hardest part of your January financial makeover is done. With a touch of smugness you will be able to honestly proclaim next Christmas that you at least stuck to one new year's resolution.
Show me the money
One lucky reader can win pound;250 in a Teachers Building Society easy access Call Save account.
Send a postcard to Treats, The TES Magazine, 4th Floor, 26 Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4HQ, marking your entry "TBS" or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The first entry picked will win. By sending us your name and address, you agree to The TES Magazine sending you this prize. The TES will not use your personal details for any other future communications. The closing date for entries is Friday, January 18.