Local Citizens Advice workers are getting ready to help the area’s share of more than 370,000 people across the UK who are expected to turn to the organisation with post-Christmas money worries this month (January) alone.
Figures from last year show that January and February were the busiest months of the year for queries about finances, with someone viewing online advice pages every 3 seconds in January.
While January is often associated with squeezed budgets and debt worries, the research reveals that people also used the New Year to take stock of their money situation and plan their finances long-term.
Lisa Bolton, Senior Services Manager with the team of debt experts at Citizens Advice Lancashire West, said: “December and January is a particularly busy time of year for our debt team as we often find clients are focusing on achieving a fresh start for the New Year.”
People with debts are most likely to seek advice on council tax arrears, credit card debts and debt relief orders, while others ask about personal pensions, bank accounts and credit referencing.
With thousands of people seeking money advice every day, Citizens Advice is sharing eight simple steps you can take to review your finances and start planning for the future.
Do a simple budget
Write down your income and take away your essential bills such as gas and electric, 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. Use our online tool to set a more detailed budget.
Save money on essentials
You could save an average of £300 on your energy bill by changing tariffs or suppliers. Use Citizens Advice’s energy comparison tool to see if you can save.
Diarise the dates of annual contracts that are up for renewal, like your mobile phone or car insurance, and use a comparison site to see if you can get a cheaper deal.
Check you’re claiming the right benefits
If you have a family or are married, check if you can apply for working tax credits or marriage tax allowance on gov.co.uk
If you live alone, you may be entitled to a discount on your council tax bill.
If you claim benefits, visit the Citizens Advice website to check if you are eligible for discounts on your water or energy bills.
Start saving if you can – it doesn’t matter if it’s 50p or £5 a week, every penny will help improve your finances.
Saving is an important part of everyday finances, giving you a buffer for emergencies, helping you buy bigger items and giving you more financial security for the future.
Keep tabs on your overdraft
Sign up to free text alerts from your bank so you know when you’re close to going into your overdraft. Then make adjustments to your spending if you can.
Be choosey about your borrowing
If you need to borrow money, it’s important to know that there are different offers with credit cards and loans, from free balance transfers to paying no interest for the first few months.
Get your debts in order
If you can’t pay all your debts at once, it’s important to prioritise. Rent or mortgage and council tax are more important than credit card debts for example; as the consequences can be more serious if you don’t pay. Find out how to prioritise on the Citizens Advice website or contact your nearest service for help.
Invest in your future
Pensions are a great way to save for the future and are also good value, as your contributions are topped up your employer and the government.
If you’re eligible for auto-enrolment, consider paying more than just the minimum.
Those who are self-employed can still set up their own pension but make sure it’s with a regulated company.
If you’re over 50 and have a defined contribution pension you can get free a Pension Wise appointment to learn more about taking your pension.