The coronavirus pandemic is causing financial uncertainty and many people are finding it harder and harder to stay on top of their finances.
Households are struggling due to reduced earnings, with outgoings remaining the same or even increasing due to lockdown.
Debt charities are warning of a tsunami of personal debt and are urging people to start reviewing their finances and lifestyle habits now.
On average, people wait three years before they seek financial help but taking positive steps early will help you prepare for uncertain times ahead.
Here are 10 things you should think about that will help you get your finances in better shape.
Understand your money
No one likes seeing in black and white how much – or little – cash they actually have. But it’s crucial to do this to fully understand where you stand financially.
Take an hour or so to go through how much you earn versus what you pay out every month. Then look at the debt itself. What interest rate you are paying and how long you’ve got to pay it?
Paying those with the highest interest rates, for example, may be more important than paying the largest debt.
Signing up for one of the free credit score apps is also recommended.
Overall, this will give you a solid picture on your current financial position and should make it easier to make a plan to go forward.
Maximise your income
Make every penny a prisoner! This does not mean you have to live a life of austerity, but you might question spending money on luxury items you simply don’t need at the moment.
Many banks and apps now offer the facility where they round up your card payments and stash away the difference.
Use this spare money to make additional payments to your other commitments with higher interest rates such as credit or store cards.
Avoid taking on any other unnecessary financial commitments at the moment.
Do a full benefit check
Millions of people are not receiving the benefits to which they are entitled. This is especially the case where someone has suffered a recent change in circumstances, such as becoming ill, changing job, seeing their income drop, moving home or having a baby.
Go online or contact your local council directly and ask them where you can access a full benefit check. You might also qualify for a Council Tax Reduction.
The onus is on you to apply for benefits. Make a claim as soon as possible. If you delay, you may miss out on money as potential backdating of benefits is often only for a short period of time.
Regardless of the type or size of your debt or financial problems, there are free, trained, money advisers out there to help you today. They can advise you about a budget, contact your creditors or help set up a debt payment plan. They will also give you peace of mind that you are taking the right steps to fix your finances.
Spring clean your bank account
Are there direct debts and standing orders paying for things that are not essential or you barely even used? What can you can cancel, safely, without incurring charges and penalties?
No one is suggesting you cancel all TV/movie or music services, but do you really need more than one service? Even if you simply downgrade your package you could start saving a small fortune.
Don’t be a loyal customer, be a clever one These days, it doesn’t always pay to be loyal with your phone, broadband, TV or utilities provider.
Firms know that most customers can’t be bothered with the hassle of changing over, so may not offer the best deal available.
But, if you make a point of shopping around, you may be surprised at how much you can save.
Keep a track of when your contracts are due to expire, go online and use comparison sites to see if you can get a better deal elsewhere.
Contact your lenders
Don’t wait until you have defaulted or are facing penalties before taking action. Speak to your lenders early and discuss your situation. Most lenders recognise the strain caused by the pandemic and are prepared to be more flexible. More often than not, they will agree a positive solution.
It may be worthwhile consolidating your debt into single monthly payment or transferring the balance to a credit card to help with quicker repayment and avoid additional charges.
Annualise your small spending
Think about where you are regularly spending smaller amounts on luxury food and drink items and convert this into a monthly or yearly amount. For example, if you spend £10 on a takeaway two or three times a week, that’s at least £80 a month, almost £1000 a year... It all adds up.
Consider cutting back to once a week, halving your expenditure on things you could probably do without, at least until your finances are in a better shape.
Worrying about debt can take its toll on your physical and mental health. Do not be ashamed to ask for help and regardless of your situation, there is a solution.
Before coronavirus, it was estimated that eight million people across the UK were struggling with problem debt, so you are not alone. It takes courage to ask for help with debt but, once you take that first step, you will feel a massive weight off your shoulders and may even sleep better at night.
Consider a formal debt solution
This does not always mean bankruptcy – there are other alternatives that will help you repay your debt over an extended period of time. A money adviser will also help you to apply for a moratorium if they think it is needed. This is really helpful if a creditor is threatening to take action against you.