MANAGING money and making ends meet when you’re on a low income takes careful planning.
So we’ve pulled together some of the best ways to make sure you’re using all the tricks in the book to help you stay in control when you’re on a tight budget.
Work out your budget
The first step to taking control of your money is working out your living costs, including knowing what’s coming in, what’s going out and when.
Making a budget gives you a clear picture of where your money goes and shows you where you might have a chance to save money.
It will also help you see whether you are living within your means.
The Money Advice Service and MoneySavingExpert both have good guides on how you can set up your own budget.
Look at ways to cut costs
It can be difficult to increase the amount of money you have coming in, but you have much more control over what goes out.
You can save hundreds of pounds by switching utility providers and shopping around for lots of things, including your groceries and holidays.
Energy prices are set to rise from April 1, so now's the time to switch, says Money Saving Expert, and claim you could save more than £300 a year.
But what about other bills?
You should sit down and list all of your outgoings on a spreadsheet.
For each one have a look and see if there are ways to save money.
How to cut the cost of your debt
HAVING large amounts of debt can be really worrying. Here are some tips from Citizens Advice on how you can take action.
Check your bank balance on a regular basis – knowing your spending patterns is the first step to managing your money.
Work out your budget – by writing down your income and taking away your essential bills such as food and transport.
If you have money left over, plan in advance what else you’ll spend or save. If you don’t, look at ways to cut your costs.
Pay off more than the minimum – If you’ve got credit card debts, aim to pay off more than the minimum amount each month to bring down your bill quicker.
Pay your most expensive credit card sooner – If you have more than one credit card and can’t pay the balance off in full each month, prioritise the most expensive card (the one with the highest interest rate).
Prioritise your debts – If you’ve got several debts and you can’t afford to pay them all it’s important to prioritise them.
Your rent, mortgage, council tax and energy bills should be paid first because the consequences can be more serious if you don't pay.
Get free advice – If you’re struggling to pay your debts month after month it’s important you get advice as soon as possible, before they build up even further.
Groups such as Citizens Advice and National Debtline offer free advice and can help you prioritise and negotiate with your creditors to offer you more affordable repayment plans.
Use comparison websites and go direct to providers – make sure you get at least three quotes before switching and take into account any fees you'll pay to swap providers.
Claim all the benefits you’re entitled to
It’s easier than you might think to check that you’re getting all the benefits you’re entitled to if you’re on a low income.
Some benefits are one-off payments to help with a particular set of circumstances like cold weather.
You could be missing out on thousands of pounds, as we revealed in our guide to the best tools to check.
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Be careful about borrowing money
Things like payday loans and doorstep lending can seem an easy solution, but can make a bad situation worse.
They’re often a very expensive way of borrowing – and some can end up costing you double the amount you've borrowed.
That's why we launched our campaign to Stop the Credit Rip Off – we believe everyone should have access to affordable credit.
If you're struggling with debt then speak to a free advice charity such as Citizens Advice, Stepchange or National Debtline.
Alternatives to high-cost credit
IF you're in serious money trouble then here are some alternative places where you can go to for help:
Credit Unions – These are small not-for-profit groups that help people save and borrow money, and you may be able to get a loan. You can find out which credit union you are eligible to join by searching here.
Ask for an advance – You can ask your employer to give you an advance on your wages, or the JobCentre Plus may be able to arrange a short-term advance on your first benefit payment.
Foodbanks – These organisations help provide emergency food and toiletries to see you through to payday. You can see if you qualify for your nearest branch here.
Check your benefits – Make sure that you are getting all the benefits that you are entitled to using this calculator from the charity Turn2us.
Freecyle/Facebook groups/Gumtree and eBay – You maybe able to find free or cheap second-hand furniture.
Boost your credit score – If you're never rejected for credit then there are ways to show lenders that you can be responsible with your cash.
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