Many ways to hold on to a bigger slice of your income

Make sure you get the lion's share by shopping around
Make sure you get the lion's share by shopping around
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You could be saving money on everything from car insurance to credit card bills with minimal effort. Here Jenny Keefe of MoneySavingExpert.com gives her top ten tips to get you started

The statistics tell you what the vast majority of families across Edinburgh and the Lothians already know... times are tough and getting tougher.

New figures suggest that the average Scottish household is £23-a-week or £1200-a-year worse off than they were a year ago.

Families now have less spending money than at any point since 2002 and support organisations like Citizens Advice Bureau report soaring levels of demand for their services. They have been forced to train more advisers just to specialise in money advice.

It can be a daunting task getting on top of household finances but here are some things you can do right away to ease some of the pressure.

Properly assess your finances

You know how much you earn, but do you know how much you spend each year? Without knowing both, you don’t have a real handle on your finances.

Spend more than you earn and, at best, you eat up savings. At worst, you build debts, which can make finances spiral out of control. So it must be calculated, not estimated.

To find this out requires a REAL budget. The free www.budgetbrain.com tool does this for you and shows how to balance your finances if there’s an issue.

Stop your car chugging so much fuel

Think of your car’s accelerator as a money pump. The harder you press, the more you spend. It’s less about speed and more about softer acceleration, so you speed up gradually. Keeping the revs low and changing up gear earlier make the car work less hard.

Think of your brake as a money burner, you press it and you burn up the fuel you paid to put in it. Of course, I’m not saying never slow down, but by pre-thinking your road positioning and leaving decent gaps with the car in front, you maximise fuel. Many motorists can save 20 per cent this way, or £500 a year for someone who fills up with £50 a week.

Save more than £200 on your energy bills

The typical home on a standard tariff in the UK pays £1320 a year for its gas and electricity, but could pay as little as £1030 on an online billed tariff. If you haven’t switched recently, do a comparison to see how much you can save.

Simply use a www.consumerfocus.org.uk approved comparison site. Just put in your details and they tell you your area’s cheapest. Better still, through special links listed at www.moneysavingexpert.com/gaselec, you can get £30 cashback or even a crate of wine on top.

Slash Mobile phone bills

Anything over £30/month is TOO much. Haggle it down with your existing provider (threaten to leave and you’ll be amazed what they offer) plus compare via sites like www.Omio.com and www.billmonitor.com

Check if you can reclaim £1000s in PPI

Before you skip this, thinking “it ain’t for me”, read this e-mail sent to MoneySavingExpert: “Because of your prompting to check I had PPI insurance with a loan, I realised mine had over £5000 of PPI I had neither asked for, nor knew about. I received a cheque for £5224.”

Anyone who’s had a card or loan active over the last six years, ie, they were still paying it then, should dig out the paperwork and check. Banks have put aside £6 billion to pay claims. Reclaiming’s easy – you just send off a quick letter. Full step-by-step guide with free template letters at www.moneysavingexpert.com/ppi

Repay your credit cards in the right order

If you’ve multiple cards, don’t just repay the same amount off all. Focus repayments on the highest interest rate to clear the highest quickest. Only repay the minimum on the rest.

Once it’s gone, focus on the next highest. However, if you’ve just one card, beware paying just the minimum, eg, £3000 at 18 per cent could take 27 years to clear.

Don’t auto-renew your car insurance

If you auto-renew, STOP! You’re wasting a fortune. Car insurance costs have shot up hugely. Yet by simply combining comparison sites you can slam that down due to the sheer number of quotes. However, you should always check the policy’s right for you. Find a full guide at www.moneysavingexpert.com/carinsurance

Slash the cost of summer spending abroad

The cheapest way to spend abroad is with a cheap overseas credit card. Most plastic adds a three per cent load, so spend £100 of euros and it costs £103. Yet specialist overseas spending cards give near-perfect rates, as they’re load-free worldwide: Halifax Clarity, Post Office, Saga (over 50s) and for Nationwide FlexAccount holders only, its Select card.

Always set up a monthly direct debit to fully repay, or the up to 16.9 per cent APR interest defeats any gain. To get one, you’ll need a decent credit score, and it’s likely to take about a fortnight.

Get a £200+ tax refund on your work uniform

If you wash your work uniform – whether it’s full nurse or police attire, or just a polo shirt – you may be able to reclaim tax. Provided you only wear it for work, if you wash and maintain the clothes, you may be due an extra tax-free allowance each year. The amount can be anything from £12 to £56 back per year – and you can backdate claims for up to six years. Full help at www.moneysavingexpert.com/uniforms

Check your council tax band

Check you’re not in too high a band, up to 400,000 may be. Not only can you get your band lowered, but a back-dated rebate too. Full checking system at www.mse.me/council.