Money Matters – The Basics
If being a mother has taught me anything, it’s that I’m actually pretty good with money. Years and years of falling foul of credit cards, student overdrafts and hire-purchase loans left me with a poor credit rating and a hell of an education in what it means to be smart with money. Because when those repayments creep up on you (and don’t they just creep) it can feel like your bank balance will NEVER be in the black again.
Luckily for me, I’m a quick learner and an avid reader, and I’m happy to pass my teachings on to you, my young Padawan. There’s a lot to take in when it comes to money matters, especially if you’re new to all this frugality business, so I’m going to write this up in three parts. Part two can be found here.
PART ONE – What are your finances and what can you do about it?
Looking into your Money Matters
Go and grab your basics– incomings, outgoings, direct debits, expenses etc. It’s time to take a good hard look at your life. I won’t get into the politics of poverty – lord knows the two are deeply ingrained. This article is purely a no-fuss way of taking an objective look at finances and how you can access some of the help that’s out there. No judgements – just advice.
1. Your first stop is MoneySavingExpert.com to their income tax calculator. It’ll help you figure out your take-home pay.
2. Add together your essential regular bills. Your essentials are rent/mortgage, gas, electricity, water, council tax and prescriptions, if you pay for those. Everything else is a luxury (obviously food is essential, but for the purposes of this article, we’re looking at static expenses – ones that are regular). What does your total come to? Take it off your take-home pay (the one you worked out in step 1). Whatever’s left is your household income.
3. Are your bills higher than your take-home pay? Scroll down to ‘Help!‘
5. If you have money left over after your bills, it’s time to look at your luxuries. How much are you paying for your internet/home phone/tv package? Your mobile? Car costs? And the biggie- your food bill (I know it’s essential but, as mentioned, I’ve added ‘food’ to luxuries for a reason, we’ll get to that later- in Part 3). Take that off your household income. Whatever is left is your disposable income.
6. No disposable income? Take a look at ‘Help!‘ then scroll down to ‘Learn How to Google‘
7. If you still have disposable income but find yourself in debt, then you really need to look at Part 2
Help! My Bills Are Too High/Income Too Low!
Get yourself over to www.entitledto.com and pop in all your details. It’ll tell you what you’re realistically looking at as an income and what you may be entitled to, in terms of help from the government. An absolute lifesaver if you’re struggling as it’ll work out both your benefit entitlement and tax credits award. This is not a final and secure amount, and you may be entitled to other help.
Another brilliant resource is Turn2Us which has both a benefits calculator and a grants tool. Did you know, for example, that United Utilities have a grant to help you pay for your water bills? I wouldn’t if it weren’t for this site. It can be a little hit-and-miss but stick with it, if you take your time to go through the results, you’ll most likely find a grant to help you out of your debt.
Then take a look at a couple of comparison websites (side note: I have an old, old email address I use for sites like these so I don’t get inundated with useless spam after I check) to make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck. Some of the most popular include Money Supermarket, Compare the Market (double bonus of Meerkat Movies) and USwitch.
Finally, an oldie but goldie, Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) has a team dedicated to helping with specific problems. They can show you how to write to large companies requesting payment agreements, assist you with benefit claims, right through to discussing relationships, discrimination and problems at work. Their website is full of useful information but you can also make an appointment to meet with specially trained staff and discuss your personal finances.
Learn How to Google Like a Pro
I’ve been asked countless times questions that could, quite honestly, have been just as easily resolved by a quick Google. The best way to get the results you want are as follows:
- “” To look for a specific phrase or sentence, put it in quotation marks and Google will only show you results that include only what is written in the quotations marks, for example, “credit union” or “lone parent”
- – Use a dash before words that you don’t want to be included in your search. This way, if you see a site that frequently pops up that has nothing to do with what you want, you can minus it.
- ~ A tilde before a keyword will tell Google to also search for its synonyms, for example, ‘~advice’
- Site: Use this to find links within a specific site. For example ‘site: gov.UK tax credits’
- Related: Use this to discover sites with similar intent or purpose to the one you’re looking for. Eg. ‘Related: moneysupermarket.com’
Read, Read, Read
It’s all well and good looking for advice and help online if you don’t read up what’s on the sites linked. I know money-related sites make for pretty meaty reading but it’s absolutely worth it and you’ll take most of the confusion out of your situation by staying calm and reading over everything. Yes, even the boring bits. As an example, most people don’t realise that the EntitledTo website actually has links to further help and advice after you’ve completed your calculator. They see their results and immediately click off thinking that it’s the be-all and end-all. Scroll down. Expand sections. Read.
Don’t have a computer? Local libraries allow you to use their computers and online services for free. Sign up locally, it takes about ten minutes, and librarians are often more than happy to help teach you how to navigate and use their computers.
Talk Over Your Money Matters
If you’re in a couple, speak to your partner. There’s no point in only one person working out an entire families finances. If you’re on your own, ask for help. No-one’s expecting you to be perfect, so give yourself a break and use resources like the CAB. They’re there to help. And if money problems are really getting you down and you don’t know who to talk to, you can always make an appointment at the doctors. Stress is just as debilitating as many physical illnesses and can lead to further problems like depression and anxiety (also doctors can put you in touch with local help that you might not have found online, cause they’re nice like that).
If things are so bad that you simply don’t know where to turn any more, I whole-heartedly recommend speaking to StepChange and calling up Mind or the Samaritans – just to help you get it all off your chest. You might even be signposted to more options. Remember that people care about you and want the best for you – and nobody should ever judge you for your finances.
Other Handy Sites To Help Manage Money
If you have any questions or feel you could add something to this, feel free to comment! Part Two involves all my tips and tricks for making your money go further,