The last few years have been tough on the average Brit and with Christmas typically a time of overspending, there's a good chance you've started 2013 with a financial hangover.
While most of us feel helpless when it comes to the economic downturn, there are ways and means of making your own money go further, and that means breaking some of the bad habits you've fallen into.
Loyalty doesn't pay
It's a sad fact that very few financial firms reward their customers for loyalty. Banks, lenders, utility companies, you name it, will happily lure new business with the promise of great rates and added incentives, while those who have remained loyal for years get little in return. So why give them your money? Compare everything from current and savings accounts to credit cards and fuel bills and see just how much you could save by switching.
Debit cards and credit cards are now part of our everyday life, and that means we often use them for everyday things. As quick and easy to use as plastic is, it's also easy to lose track of your spending. If money's tight, try using cash exclusively. Not only does it draw your attention to just how much you are spending, but if you set yourself a weekly budget and then withdraw that amount, you are less likely to go overboard. And, of course, you don't get charged interest like you would with a credit card.
When you're struggling financially it is often tempting to bury your head in the sand and try to forget about the mounting bills and bank charges. Don't. If you do only one thing to fix your finances this year, come clean and start sorting it out. Where you have bills that you're struggling to pay, call the creditor or utility company concerned - they are far more likely to help you sort out a payment plan if they know you're trying. Leave those red bills unattended and they won't be so lenient.
Whether you just can't resist that bargain pair of shoes or swear you cannot make it through the day without a giant skinny latte and blueberry muffin on the way to work, what are basically unnecessary purchases can quickly prove a drain on your monthly income. It's a problem that is easily solved though, simply by avoiding temptation. Don't visit the mall during your lunch hour, and either take a flask from home or change your route to work to avoid the lure of that freshly-ground coffee smell. Whatever your personal shopping weakness, stay away from the places that are likely to weaken your resolve.
The rainy day fund
It may seem impossible to even consider saving money right now, but a small sum spared each month, no matter how small, could save your bacon in an emergency. Whatever you can squirrel away will undoubtedly come in handy for unexpected expenses, so consider setting up a standing order to put a set amount of your wages into a savings account each week or month.
Check your charges
Just as loyalty doesn't pay, many Brits lose money simply because they don't check their statements. Wise up and take a closer look at your bank and credit card statements. Did you sign up to a current account with a monthly charge during more affluent times, only to find that you haven't made use of the supposed advantages? Has the zero percent interest offer on your credit card been and gone? Find out and take action if so.
Last but most definitely not least, living beyond your means puts you in the fast lane to financial strife and ultimately debt. A monthly budget is perhaps the most important weapon in your financial arsenal, and could mean the difference between keeping your head above water or sinking into the quagmire. Work out what you earn and what goes out each month, then budget for essentials like food and petrol. A little overspending can lead to more (not to mention expensive overdraft charges) - so be realistic and keep an eye on exactly what you have.
Are you determined to take control of your finances in 2013? How do you plan on breaking your bad money habits? Leave your comments below...