The shocking solution to overspending

Smartphone budgeting app

You might think there's no cure for our overspending habits. You may think that to tackle something so ingrained would take something drastic - and possibly painful. However, a new study claims that you might not need to go to extreme lengths, because there could be a simple solution to your overspending.

See also: Brits vow to cut back on spending as tough times loom ahead

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Royal London and YouGov carried out a trial, where participants were given smartphone apps (or told to use a pen and paper) and told to track their spending for three months. They weren't given any other instructions or advice about cutting back or saving money - all they had to do was track it.

The results

At the end of the three months, of those who completed the trial, the results were startling. While half of them said keeping track of their spending had been useful, they also recorded a huge number of money-saving steps they had taken during the three months.

This included some straightforward things, such as going through bank statements and spotting old direct debits and standing orders that had never been cancelled. There were also those who started shopping at cheaper supermarkets.

Other changes required major shifts in behaviour - including those who started cycling to work to save money, those who gave up their morning takeaway coffee, and even the participant who gave up smoking.

Budgeting also encouraged people to save for unexpected expenses with a quarter (26%) saying they were more motivated to do so at the end of the project.

Commenting on the research, Royal London's director of policy, Steve Webb, said: "What was interesting about our research project was the way in which the simple act of monitoring what you spend every day or week made some people more aware and put them more in control of their finances. They were then able to make their own choices about priorities."

The shortfall

So have they found the solution? Have they solved the overspending crisis in the UK?

Not exactly. Of all the people who took part in the study, only a quarter stuck with it for the whole three months. Some called a halt to proceedings before they'd made a single entry.

And of those who stuck with it, only half said it had helped. Even then, they didn't claim to have conquered their overspending impulses entirely.

Sadly, therefore, it's not a silver bullet. However, it's a useful tool that can make a major difference for an eighth of us - and as such, it has to be worth trying.

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Ten ways to cut your costs
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Ten ways to cut your costs
Shopping around for cheaper gas and electricity has become far simpler since the dawn of the comparison site. You just need a handful of your past bills and 20 minutes at the computer, and you can find a new provider that the comparison sites claim can save you more than £380 a year. Unfortunately there's no guaranteeing that this provider will stay the cheapest forever, so you'll need to revisit it every six months to make sure they are still competitive.
Researchers have found that 8.8 million people rolled over their car insurance last year, missing out on savings of up to £250. Nearly half of them didn't even bother to check whether their quote from their current provider had increased from the previous year. When it comes to car and home insurance, we should all take the time to check a comparison site when we renew. It won't take more than 30 minutes and can save you hundreds of pounds.
In many instances there are discounts for people who opt for paperless billing and paying by direct debit. Unless you have a very good reason for wanting to avoid this, it's a sacrifice-free way of saving around £70 a year on your utilities.
Talking of direct debits, it's worth looking through your bank statement at all your direct debits and checking whether you take advantage of all of them. Gym memberships, magazine subscriptions, and club memberships can set you back a small fortune, and if you're not using them, it's no sacrifice to cancel the service and then cancel the direct debit.
Normally we do anything we can in order to avoid cold calls from the companies that provide our energy, TV packages, broadband and phone, on the grounds that they're trying to sell us something. However, if you call them and tell them you think you're paying too much and you're considering switching, they will start to work in your favour. You may be able to switch to a different tariff, or cut back on services you're not taking full advantage of. Sometimes they will offer a significant discount just because you have asked for it. The only word of warning is not to be talked into buying more from the provider on the assurance that it's better value.
The market is changing all the time, so the credit card or loan that suited you best when you first got it may no longer be the most suitable or the cheapest now. It's worth revisiting every six months to check whether there are new cards and deals on the market that could help you pay less interest - which could in turn help you pay off your debts faster too.

You don't have stop buying the things you like, when you can hunt for vouchers and coupons which let you buy them for less. This isn't an excuse to buy things you wouldn't otherwise consider, but it's a nice way to shave £5 off the weekly shop without changing what you buy. Likewise when you're buying anything online, before you hit the checkout, do a quick search for the name of the shop and the word 'voucher'. There are a host of websites dedicated to sharing details of current vouchers, so you could find yourself saving 10% without trying.

Cashback comes in a variety of guises, from credit cards to cashback websites, and will repay you anything from 0.5% to 4% on everything you spend. Again this doesn't mean buying from another shop, or changing what you buy, it just means getting money off all your shopping.
With a bit of effort, technology can help you save a fortune. Making phone calls over the internet to someone else with an internet-based phone service is free. Making calls to landlines, mobiles and overseas can be reduced too. Likewise if your smartphone has the ability to make video calls over the internet, then the call is free to other people with the same service. Some come with this built-in, while others will let you install an app which provides the service. You don't have to be a tech demon to save significantly and still make all the calls you used to.
If you currently pay for a satellite TV service, then take the time to think abut how you use it. If you just get it for the films and a couple of channels and you are happy to watch through an on-demand service, then there are a number of streaming services providing a cost-effective alternative.
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