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If you’ve resolved to improve your finances for the new year … | Money

It’s a new year and many of us are looking for a fresh start after a very difficult 2021.

We’ve asked a group of experts for their advice on how to tackle some of the most common personal finance dilemmas.

I want to spend less money this year, what should I do?

Damien Fahy, founder of personal finance site Money to the Masses

The key to spending less is having a budget – if you can quantify it, you can control it. Luckily, there are lots of resources to help work out a monthly budget, including budgeting and banking apps. I’d recommend Money Dashboard and Emma.

Try using the “three-day rule” to curb frivolous spending – if you want something, wait three days before buying it to see if you genuinely want or need it, rather than it being a momentary impulse.

You can also introduce zero-spend days into your week, aiming to have 24 hours without additional spending, over and above essentials, such as food and bills.

How can I clear my overdraft?

Sara Williams, founder of the Debt Camel advice blog

Overdrafts are a hard type of debt to clear, as your balance keeps changing through the month. But they are also very expensive, so are a priority to tackle. You can be very disciplined, and aim to cut your overdraft usage each month.

Many people find it is more practical to change to a new current account with no overdraft and move all of their banking over. That way you can pay off the old overdraft by setting up a standing order from your new account.

If you have been continuously in your overdraft for a long while, never getting back into the black, you should also look at making a claim for unaffordable lending. This would be based on whether the bank “completed reasonable and proportionate checks” that you could repay in a sustainable way. Details at the Financial Ombudsman Service website.

I need a decent pension. How do I begin?

Steve Webb, partner at LCP and former pensions minister

If you earn more than £10,000, your employer should put you in a workplace pension and make a contribution, so simply not opting out is a great start. Next, review your pension contribution each time you get a pay increase, as it’s less painful to commit a bit more before you’ve got used to the extra income.

Also, find out if your employer will do more, if you do more. Many bigger firms will match the money you put in (up to a limit). Make the most of this “free money”.

Finally, it’s never too late to start. You get good tax breaks for saving in a pension, plus money from your employer, so even building up a small pot is worthwhile.

How can I drive an electric car without breaking the bank?

Melanie Shufflebotham, co-founder of Zap-Map, which gives information on charging and electric vehicles

One of the best routes to getting a good value electric vehicle (EV) is via a salary sacrifice scheme. Another flexible option is to subscribe to a short-term, all-inclusive service such as Onto, which includes insurance, charging and tax, among other expenses.

There are also more secondhand EVs available to buy – try out one of the specialist companies, such as Weareev or Drive Green.

Once you have secured your electric vehicle, your next step is to get a charge point installed at your home and sign up to an EV energy tariff with discounts for off-peak charging when available, given current energy tariff issues.

With this, costs can be as low as 2-3p/mile – even less if you can link it to solar panels. Alternatively, you can check out community charging via Co-Charger, or take a look at the close to 30,000 public charge points on Zap-Map, about 5,000 of which are still free to use.

Energy bills are killing me, how do I save money?

Laura McGadie, group head of energy, Energy Saving Trust

There are a series of simple and straightforward things you can do that will save you money without compromising your health or lifestyle.

Firstly, turn off devices that are on standby and turn off lights when you leave the room. Be sure to draught-proof around windows, doors, floorboards and skirting boards and insulate hot water cylinders with an 80mm British Standard jacket. In the kitchen, fit an aerator to the tap – it reduces the amount of water flowing – and only boil water you need in the kettle.

Reduce the number of washing machine loads you run by one a week, and ensure they are always full. Wash clothes at 30 degrees. Avoid using a tumble dryer – dry clothes outside where possible, or inside with ventilation. Limit shower times to four minutes and swap a weekly bath for a shower. Take all of these steps and you could save up to £248 a year.

How can I prepare for my child starting university this year?

Laura Brown, editor, Save the Student

It’s worth familiarising yourself with the student finance system and, if possible, saving up some money to help them get by.

Research has found that, on average, students receive £120.56 a month from parents. But one in eight feels their parents don’t give enough financial support. As maintenance loans are generally calculated on household income, you might find the government actually expects you to contribute, offering a smaller loan as a result. We have a parental contributions calculator that helps you work out how much this could be.

Saving to financially support your child, as well as sharing your best money-management tips, could make a huge difference.

I want to eat more sustainably – what should I do?

Sian Conway-Wood, author of Buy Better, Consume Less

The first thing is to not do something – and that is waste food. Households account for 70% of food waste in the UK, and the majority of food thrown away would have been edible. The cost of that adds up to £284 a person each year.

Plan ahead, buy what you need and take steps to avoid waste. All of these steps are the first moves towards sustainable eating and can save you money as a result. Potatoes, bread and fresh fruit and vegetables are some of the most wasted foods. We’re often encouraged to buy in bulk, but they can be purchased in smaller quantities.

Pay attention to how much you actually use and reduce the amount you buy.

I am scared of being scammed. What steps should I take to protect myself?

Jason Costain, head of fraud prevention at NatWest

When buying goods, only use sellers or shops that accept card payments. Be suspicious when answering calls, texts and emails. There will always be the latest ingenious scam, so any time you give someone your address, email, or date of birth, stop and think. Do I trust them and what do they need it for? A lot of victims are the target of sophisticated scammers days after they’ve innocently given away basic information.

I want a pay rise, how do I go about it?

Charles Cotton, senior policy adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development

Do your homework by checking what the going rate is for similar jobs, such as through a salary comparison website like Glassdoor.

If you’re already being paid the average salary, or higher, it could prove harder to justify an increase, so you may want to go for a promotion, instead.

If you’re not, make sure you make this point when putting forward your case. Strengthen it further by giving examples of why you deserve a pay rise – perhaps you met all your annual objectives, or you’ve excelled on a particular project. While it makes sense to talk to your manager first, they will most likely not be able to authorise a pay rise. Make their job easier by writing down your reasons, which they can share with their colleagues.

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