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So whether you ventured overseas this summer or stayed at home, chances are you're feeling the pinch now it's autumn. Now's a good time to take stock of your finances so that you're ready for the demands of another expensive season – winter.Written by:Laura StaplesPersonal Finance JournalistWinter FinancesA recent survey revealed that families planning a main holiday abroad over the summer months expected it to cost them just under £1,300 – based on flights, accommodation, meals and spending money for the family. And those planning a ‘staycation' at home thought it would set them back around £900 – and that didn't include Olympic tickets.
As soon as the temperature drops, we turn up the thermostat and keep our fingers crossed that we don't hear the boiler begin to clunk. We're more likely to spend more time at home too, hiding from the elements, and this pushes up our energy bills. And then there is Christmas!
But don't despair, the turning of the seasons gives us the opportunity to master our finances before winter bills start to pile up.accounts can do this for you, but it's easy to do it yourself too. If you're a bit of a computer whiz, you can log your expenditures into a spreadsheet, then group the information by the shops you visited or by the sums being paid out. Or if you're a fan of the old-school approach, use a pack of highlighter pens and go through your statements, marking off and colour coding spending categories. Whichever method you choose, you'll quickly work out where your money goes each month.So where to start?Before you can decide how much you need to put aside for that new set of winter tyres or a hefty fuel bill, you need to know exactly how much money you do or don't have. So firstly, gather all your paperwork together – including any payslips, bank statements and credit card bills – to work out your monthly income and outgoings.Try to identify different categories of spending, such as food, utilities, socialising and clothes, to get an idea of what exactly you spend your money on day-to-day. Some bank
Does the boiler need fixing? Could the car do with a new set of winter tyres? Is there a special Christmas present you need to buy this year or could you do with some winter sun? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then chances are you need to cut back on a few areas of spending.
Start off by trimming the fat – in other words, stop spending money on unnecessary things. For example, cut back on that £2 coffee on the way to the office and you could easily save around £40 a month.Your next priority should be to examine any debts you might have. If you've borrowed money – through an overdraft, loan or credit or store card – you need to keep a log of exactly how much you owe. While it can be tempting to put your credit card bill to one side when it arrives through the letterbox – especially if you've got a 0% purchase card and you pay the minimum balance by Direct Debit each month – when it comes to your finances, ignorance never leads to bliss.
So make sure you go through all your bills and account statements regularly so you know how much you have to repay and when you need to repay it by – and don't forget to find out when that 0 per cent interest deal comes to an end. Staying on top of your borrowing will prevent you from being charged for missing a payment or going over your overdraft limit – both of which can damage your credit score.If you would like to see your credit report, you can request a copy from Experian or Equifax for £2. Making sure it's all in order and that there are no mistakes can make it easier in future to get credit, whether for a mobile phone contract or a mortgage.
Once you've taken stock of your income and outgoings, it's time to work out your spending priorities and set yourself a budget so you can start to save towards them.Then think about how you can ensure the things you simply have to continue to pay for represent the best value for money. For example, do you know if your gas and electricity deals are competitive? Chances are if you've been with your provider for years and haven't changed your tariff for a while, you're probably paying more than you need to. According to switching website uSwitch.com, 10 per cent of energy customers who used the site to change energy suppliers between 1 July and 31 October 2011 (for both their gas and electricity) saved £420 or more.
And a little common sense when it comes to gas and electricity can save on winter fuel bills, too. For example, putting a higher-tog duvet on your bed in the autumn and winter months and wearing warmer clothes can help you rely less on the heating. Turning the TV off instead of leaving it on standby and using the washing machine during the night when power is cheaper will also help you save on your electricity bills. So too can cooking for the season. For example, colder weather is the perfect time to make delicious one-pot wonders such as stews and casseroles. Fill them with cheap but tasty root vegetables and not only will you enjoy wholesome and hearty meals, you'll also use less power by cooking them on a low heat.
But if you want to make more significant savings around the home, investing in energy efficiency really makes sense. According to the Energy Saving Trust, insulating a loft in agas-heated, semi-detached three-bedroom home can result in savings of up to £175 a year. Although this could cost between £100 and £350 to install, the savings mean that the insulation would pay for itself within two years and you would also be saving around 720kg of C02 each year too. For more great tips on how energy efficiency could cut your winter fuel bills, visit the website at energysavingtrust.org.uk.
Fitting a room thermostat saves around £70 and 280kg of carbon dioxide a year.Save energy, save money.
The average home in the UK could save around £280 and 1.1 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year by being more energy efficient.
If every UK household turned their appliances off when not in use, collectively we could save £530 million every year and as much carbon dioxide as would be saved by taking 660,000 cars off the UK's roads.
Double glazing can save on average around £160 and 650kg of carbon dioxide a year.So once you've budgeted, trimmed back any unnecessary spending and made sure you're getting a fair deal for all your household bills, you should be a lot calmer about the costs of winter. And if your attention is now turning to Christmas spending, opening a regular savings account could be a good way to lighten the load of Christmas spending.
It might be useful to know that in 2011, most families in the UK spent between £530 and £682 on gifts, decorations, food and drink, according to research for the charity Family Action. So setting aside some cash beforehand could help you take Christmas in your stride.
If everyone in the UK washed their clothes at 30 degrees instead of higher temperatures, collectively we could save around £170 million (around 620,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide). This is enough electricity to power over 370,000 homes for a year or to power the UK's street lighting for seven months.Facts from the Energy Saving Trust.
Cathy, 25, &David, 31M&S and a draft excluder to keep the cold air coming into the flat under the balcony door.
Meanwhile, David has been looking at switching to paying for the electricity by Direct Debit, as this will mean cheaper monthly premiums and the certainty of knowing how much is going out each month.
David has also recently decided to ditch his £100 monthly commuting cost and buy a bike to ride to work instead.Cathy, a journalist, and David, an IT project manager, have lived together in central London for about a year.
After a summer of attending a family wedding on the Amalfi Coast and paying for Olympic tickets, they are keen to sort out their finances for the winter months so that they can easily handle big winter fuel bills and Christmas expenses.
They've made a few lifestyle changes. They often go out for brunch at the weekend to-
gether, but have since decided to cut back by buying the ingredients and making it at home. And rather than going out to the theatre quite as
often,they have bought a LoveFilm subscription at only £6 a month.
Some of the most effective changes can be the simplest. To trim the energy bills, Cathy has bought a winter duvet from
The past 18 months have been the most expensive of Tom and Ellie's lives. The couple got married in June, a year after buying their first home. And now with the big expenses out of the way, the couple are keen to get back on an even keel so they can take winter bills and the cost of Christmas in their stride.
The couple have also recently signed up to a dual fuel bill for their gas and electricity because it was cheaper than having two separate tariffs with different suppliers. ‘We'd also like to have renewable energy, such as solar heating, at home but the initial cost is quiteHowever, Tom is already making good progress. He likes to budget and withdraw a certain amount of money each week and says that once it's gone, it's gone, and he tries to do without until the following
The views expressed here are solely those of the author,
and do not necessarily reflect the views of M&S Bank.expensive, so we'll have to wait a while to do this. But we do already have a water butt,' adds Tom, 28.
While the couple commute from the suburbs into their full-time jobs in the city, they also hope to work less in future and to be more self-sufficient, like Tom and Barbara in the BBC series The Good Life. That's why they've started growing their own vegetables in the garden. And one of their wedding presents was a pair of hens – named Quaver and Wotsit – so they can eat their own eggs.week. ‘I suppose it goes with my idea of self-sufficiency.'
‘I also make my own lunch rather than buying it when I'm in work. I enjoy doing it and I reckon it's an easy way to save £20 a week – which will help us when it comes to paying for Christmas.'
And as far as Christmas presents go, this year Tom says he will have to up his game. ‘I don't usually buy presents until a few weeks before Christmas, which not only means I have to pay for them all at once but it also means I don't have much time to really think about great presents,' he explains.
‘However, Ellie's present to me last year was awesome. She sent me on a bread baking course. So I had better get saving to buy her something great this year!'Tom, 28, &Ellie, 30‘I love the idea of doing things for myself,' says Tom. ‘At the moment, we check our finances on a fairly ad hoc basis but if I am to follow my dream of being a smallholder with a side business in pie, bread or jam-making, I will need to be much stricter about where our money goes.'