With the Christmas bonus a long-forgotten treat and a New Year payrise quite laughable at the moment, most of us have rolled into 2012 with the same stretched salaries.
But what if you could give yourself a payrise? We share simple tips to trim regular expenses and free up a chunk of cash each month.
Ditch direct debits
While some direct debits are unavoidable and others can actually save you money – paying for gas and electricity by direct debit rather than on receipt of a bill, for example - there may be other regular payments that you could do without.
Magazine subscriptions, DVD and game rental club membership and superfluous insurance are just a few examples of items you could be paying out for but not fully using. Run through your bank statements and assess whether you truly need each direct debit, and if so, whether it offers value for money or you could get it cheaper elsewhere. Do you need mobile phone insurance for example? Or are you already covered on your home insurance? There's simply no point in paying twice.
Similarly if you pay a monthly fee for a packaged current account, review whether you actually use the service you are paying for. While these accounts, with inclusive services such as car breakdown cover, travel insurance and ID fraud protection, may prove useful to some – more often than not it is possible to find cheaper and more comprehensive standalone products and opt for a free current account instead.
Lunch boxes and flasks have definitely seen more use since the recession struck, but the soaring success of coffee shop chains and the huge lunchtime queues at inner city supermarket branches show we're still splashing out on take out coffees and lunches.
Buying a coffee and sandwich or salad each working day can easily set you back £5 – that's £25 a week or around £100 a month. While supermarket options may be cheaper, pre-packaged individual portions charge a huge premium for the convenience and packaging. Even paying a relatively budget-friendly £2 for a single prawn salad from Tesco for example, is a huge waste when you could make up a batch with an iceberg lettuce, frozen cooked prawns and a few spoonfuls of mayo for less than £4 for the whole week.
Take out coffee is expensive: fact. Of course, sometimes these little treats make the working day more bearable, so if you can't face going completely cold turkey, try cutting your consumption to one or two a week. You'll appreciate them more and you can still get your daily caffeine fix by splitting the cost of a buying cafetiere and fresh coffee with colleagues for a fraction of the cost.
Yes cutting the convenience of take out takes some organisation and forward planning, which you might not be able to fit in everyday, but it really makes sense to trim wasteful expenses where you can to free up cash for more pressing financial commitments.
Keep fit costs
Before the Christmas binging kicks in is a good time to reflect upon your gym membership and whether you use it enough to get value for money from the monthly fee. Post-Christmas, we're all feeling guilty from overindulgence and easily persuaded to sign up for 12-month contracts, that all too often fall by the wayside come spring.
At around £50-£70 a month, gym membership is an expensive commitment - dividing the monthly fee by your typical number of visits can be quite enlightening to the true cost of keeping fit. If you are not making the most of it, consider not renewing your subscription in the new year and look into cheaper ways of working out. Find a running partner or club online, cycle to work or look into pay-as-you-go classes or facility use to keep in control of how much you spend.
Quit bad habits
As a former smoker, I'm not about the start lecturing on the risks of smoking – but if the health warnings aren't incentive enough to quit – the extortionate cost should surely provide some encouragement. With premium brands nudging £7 a pack, a 20-a-day habit costs a huge £210 a month or £2,520 a year. The figures speak for themselves – quitting will give a sizeable payrise and improve your health. It's a no brainer.
Get to grips with groceries
The average household throws away up to 20% of the food they buy, according to recent figures from Wrap – the government's advisor on waste reduction – equal to around £680 worth over the course of a year.
If you find yourself frequently throwing food away if is time to assess your shopping, storage and cooking habits to find ways to stop unnecessary wastage and put money back in your pocket. An obvious initial problem is that you're buying too much food that you don't have chance to eat before it turns bad – planning your meals for the week and writing a list is an easy way to combat this.
If you throw food away after a meal – avoid cooking more than you need. If you suspect that leftovers are unlikely to get eaten, stop making enough pasta or rice to feed a small army and instead stick to the amount your family will actually consume in a sitting. Invest in some inexpensive kitchen scales and measure your foods – there is a useful portion calculator at Lovefoodhatewaste.com.