Spring clean your finances

Pensions, mortgages and bills are not the most exciting thing in life, but they are important. Getting them organised doesn’t just make it easier to avoid problems when payments are due, it can also save you money.

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Sorting out your paperwork is the kind of task that many of us put off. After all, it’s hardly thrilling stuff! But it’s one of those things that needs to be done, so take advantage of the lack of distractions now to give your finances a good going over.

Wondering why it’s a good idea?

  • It’s easier to have the right figures to hand when you want to use price comparison websites and shop around for good deals.
  • Looking at bills and statements as they come in ensures you’ll quickly spot any extra fees you’re being charged.
  • You can keep tabs on any shares, bonds or small savings accounts you might have accumulated.
  • Reading contracts helps you pay only for what you really need – for example, does your house insurance still include cover for a bike you no longer own?

Getting started: paperwork storage

Be methodical now and get everything in place, so that the next time you need to do a sort-out, it will take much less time.

  • Cover an old box with lovely wrapping paper so it looks nice enough to keep in the kitchen or your lounge, where it’s close at hand. Use it to keep papers in until you can file them properly.
  • When all your papers are together, the task instantly feels less daunting. Put all bills, statements, pension info, home documents and so on into separate piles, then sort them into date order within each pile.
  • Put each set into marked envelopes, plastic folders or just one big ring binder, and keep it somewhere easy to find.

Cutting your monthly costs

There are unavoidable outgoings in any household, but if you can do it then it’s a good idea to save something each week or month, however small the amount. Read our article about the one rule you need to know about saving and map out places you can make extra savings.

  • Make a list of your financial commitments, then highlight places you think you could cut costs.
  • Go online to see what deals your existing credit card and bank providers are offering, then tell them you’re thinking of moving to a different company – this can help you get better deals like new customers.
  • The same goes for phone deals, TV packages and any other memberships or regular outgoings you might have.

Remembering important dates

Keep track of when any offers you take are due to expire, to avoid increased fees.

  • If you’re locked into fixed term deals, start to shop around for new offers a few weeks beforehand so you have time make alternative arrangements if you need to.
  • Set a reminder for yourself of any notice period you might have to give, to avoid any penalty charges.
  • Keeping a calendar of when payments are due will also help you avoid bank charges if a direct debit goes out when your account is low. This way you’ll be able to spot when one-off annual payments (like water rates and home insurance) are due and avoid any default charges on those, too.

Understanding your bills

Bills can be so baffling that it’s tempting to just pay up and put them aside. However, it’s worth taking a closer look.

  • Utility bill estimates can be much higher or lower than the amount of gas or electricity you’ve really used. If a bill has been estimated, do a customer reading and pay the right amount now so you’re not spending too much in advance or risking an extra big bill next time.
  • Some services charge more at different times of the day – the details should always be explained on the back of the bill, in an accompanying leaflet or in the small print if you get your bills electronically. See if you can make changes to bring those costs down.
  • Is the way you pay costing you more? Choosing to pay by Direct Debit and getting bills electronically can bring charges down.
  • It takes very little time to run a few numbers through a price comparison site and it’s worth doing once a year, just so you can be happy your provider is still giving you the best deal.

Staying on top of your budget

Keep receipts and bank statements so you have a much better idea of money going in and out of your account. And why not have a look at our article on how to take control of your food budget.

How do you stay on top of your finances? Let us know in the comments below!