First-hand experience of the credit crunch? Philip Evans helps you detox your debt.
If you've just seen your bank statement and been surprised by how much of your overdraft you used during Christmas, or if your credit card balance seems a challenge, now is the time to think about making life a bit easier for yourself in 2008. These suggestions can make a huge difference to your financial future.
Check your bank and credit card statements meticulously. It's surprising how many people continue to pay for services they don't need or use - such as insurance, gym membership or an internet service. Also, checking your statements is the only way to spot if you've been the victim of identity theft and someone else is accessing your account.
Check your insurance policies. Do you have overlapping cover and pay twice for some protection? Does your building cover include work on gas and water pipes? Does your contents cover include your children's possessions while at university? And do you really need the payment protection cover on your credit cards and loans?
Limit your use of credit to major purchases. It's usually sensible to put routine purchases on credit cards, such as your weekly shopping and evenings out, because of the convenience and protection, but if you don't clear the balance each month everything ends up being just that bit more expensive. Limiting your credit in this way is nearly as good as getting a pay rise.
Shop by list, not by sight. Once upon a time, almost everyone made a shopping list but today most people go around supermarkets picking off the shelves what they think they need. As a consequence, an "average" family wastes nearly a third of its groceries.
Supermarkets are designed to entice you to buy what you hadn't intended. If you make a list before you leave home, and stay focused, you could make a significant saving each time you go.
Be disloyal. Don't do all your shopping in one place but go where the things you need are cheapest. This may mean going around the local grocers, butchers, bakers and so on. Of course, this isn't as convenient as the supermarket dash but it could save you quite a bit of money. It's also good exercise.
Enjoy the good things in life that are free - or nearly free. Borrow books from a library rather than buying them. Look around charity shops rather than buying new. Seek out the free entertainment in your area.
Track your spending. This is a bit of a bother but it's amazing what it'll tell you about yourself and invaluable for helping you use your money for the things that are important to you. Impulsive spending is like leaks in a hosepipe: not just a waste but a hindrance. You can only spend your money once and if it dribbles away in small purchases you can't afford better things. Track your spending for a month and your increased self-awareness will produce significant savings.
Budget. Managing your money without budgeting is like trying to drive without touching the steering wheel. It should take you about 30 minutes each week but it will relieve stress and allow you to do more of the things in life that you like. We all have money problems from time to time but a budget will let you see most of them coming so you can take action to avert a crisis.
These ideas can help you pay your way out of debt more quickly. Or free up more money to spend on the sorts of things you like to do. Or you can start saving for something special.