During the festive season, it’s common to loosen the pursestrings and be more frivolous. Christmas drinks… multiple times? Okay! Dinner with colleagues, another with friends and yet another with family? Sign me up! Exceeding the budgets I set just a little for gift-giving? Absolutely. And whilst that generosity and softening on our spending limits can allow us to bring a little extra joy to the time of year, we can find ourselves struggling in January.
The January blues really can catch up with us, with big bills, credit card payments, smaller savings pots and really limiting what we do as a result. This can then instil anxieties and money woes – the panic sets in and practicality goes out the window. There is a feeling of needing to maintain pace with the previous few months, as well as actually having bills to pay. So what can you really do? Here are some useful steps to start managing your spending and hopefully ease any anxieties.
- Firstly look at the bills you need to pay
What do you have that is actually due this month and you need to clear. Do not focus on how much money you would like to be able to spend. There will be standard fixed expenses (mortgage, car, phone etc) and anything new or specific to that month. It could be a tax bill, a credit card bill or an ever-soaring energy bill (different topic). Work out how much need to cover this month’s outgoing payments. The next part is to work out how much you have coming in and net those off. You might find it’s not as scary as you thought.
- If your bills exceed your income this month, look at ways to pay
The next consideration is if you’re finding that your net is in the minuses. Take a look at each bill and the ways to pay available. Many bills may not need to be cleared at immediately, or in full – there could be ‘pay monthly’ options. Don’t jump into any payment plan or delay paying hastily, there may be additional fees. These are likely to be small/manageable, but make sure all options are right for you.
- Try to make a budget for your variable expenses
Okay so we bought a lot of cheese and did a fair bit of socialising last month, but we don’t have to carry that forward. Take a look at your variable bills (this could include food or electricity or fuel). Whilst all of these items are being impacted by the UK’s cost of living crises and the cost can be out of our control, consider those things you can control. Make shopping lists, unplug and turn off anything unnecessary (especially Christmas lights!), and try and make fewer journeys in the car. Look at new hobbies that are free! Go for a walk instead of for brunch – bring your own coffee! Do you already have various subscriptions? Make the most of them and binge that box set! Can you move plans to when you have more disposable income? Where possible, aim to set yourself a spending target.
- Shop your existing items
The sales are tempting at this time of year, aren’t they? Huge discounts from retailers trying to clear through stock and bring in the new season goodies. If you find yourself scrolling through the sale page, stop. Go and look through your wardrobes and cupboards to see what you need, and more importantly if you need it now. Sure, you may need a new pair of sandals as the dog chewed your last ones (and those are 50% off) but come summer you may not like them. There could even be better offers – or you might find them on a reasale site! When looking through your existing goods, also take a look at what you don’t use. Can you sell them through a resale site to support your next purchase? As you get your finances back on track, it’s about need and not want.
- Don’t panic when an unexpected bill happens. And, more importantly, don’t be afraid to talk about it
Best-laid plans never seem to materialise in that way, but being more conscious and aware of what’s happening with your money, you’re better able to respond to the unexpected. If a new bill drops through your post-box, repeat the following steps and if you need to, speak to someone about it. Your bank or your provider may offer advice and support, but more importantly, talk to family or friends, or even outside support, to know you’re not alone. Some of the words can feel big and scary – but the worst thing that you can do is remain in debt, or run up more debt by avoiding it.
Finally, think about how to carry on with some of these steps throughout the year. Saving up is ideal to ensure you have yourself covered, but recent times don’t always mean it has been practical. Don’t be afraid to say no and cut back, to allow yourself relief and financial freedom.
For other advice on financial support outside of your bank and immediate circles, turn2us is a UK-based charity offering advice on benefits and bills, and StepChange is a debt charity also providing support to get you back on track.