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New Year, new plans… new budget! How to improve your finances over 50

how to save money imageArticle by Helen Gradwell

No matter what your age or your lifestyle, it’s never too late to commit to a positive change in your life – whether that’s improving your finances, enhancing your health or adding to your life experiences.

New Year seems a perfect time to make these changes; a great time for a ‘new start’. You’ve got a whole year ahead of you, and anything could happen. Who knows where you could be by the end of it?

According to the Daily Mail, ‘saving money and spending less’ was the fourth most common New Year’s resolution in 2012 – beaten only by losing weight, getting fit and eating more healthily.

If your New Year’s resolution is to improve your finances, this article has some handy tips that can help you get started:

Work out your budget

It’ll be far harder to improve your finances in the future if you don’t know how you’re spending your money today! That’s why it’s important to start with your budget.

Put some time aside to sit down and look through all of your income and expenditure. How much do you earn each month – and how much of those earnings do you spend? Look at your ‘essential costs’ like your mortgage or rent payments, bills, food, petrol, Council Tax, etc. Use past bills and bank statements to help you.

Once you’ve figured out how much you have to spend each month, you’ll be able to see how much is left over. And once you know that, you can plan your spending accordingly. It’ll probably become clear whether you spend too much in certain areas – for example, do you routinely spend more than you strictly should on clothes and shoes, furnishings or socialising?

If you’re uncomfortable with how much you spend in some areas, resolve to cut back now and again.

Set yourself targets

Saving money can become a little boring – making it hard to motivate yourself to save each month.

One relatively easy way to tackle this is to look at when your income reaches your bank account (whether that’s your salary, benefits, pension, etc.) and set up a Direct Debit to leave your account directly after. For example, you could set it up so that £100 automatically goes into your savings account each month (if you’re confident you can afford it) without you ever really seeing it.

Other interesting ways to help you spend less and save more include:

  • Deciding how much you should spend each week (after your essentials have been taken care of) and only withdrawing that amount from a cash machine. Not only do you typically spend less when using cash (you can actually see how much you’re spending), but you can see the amount you have left – and once it’s gone, it’s gone.
  • Let’s say you decide on  £80 per week. You might find this process gets easier over time. Once you’re comfortable spending £80, see whether you can spend less – and try and spend as little as possible. By making it into a game you’ll be keeping it interesting.
  • Think of how much you could realistically save by the end of the year – and make that your target. Let’s say you want to save £3,000 by December 31st 2013. You can then figure out how much you’ll need to save per day (or month) to  achieve this. Use the following sum to help you:

Savings goal ÷ 365, 52 or 12 =

amount you’d have to save per day, week or month

So if you want to save £3,000 in a year, you’d need to put aside about £8.22 per day, £57.69 per week or £250 per month. You can save by physically putting money in a jar or by setting up a Direct Debit from your bank account. Once you know how much you’d have to put aside, you can decide whether it’s a realistic savings goal or not.

Clear your debts

If you have several debts to take care of, they can make it really difficult to improve your finances. It often pays to focus on clearing these debts before you make any other plans.

If you’re not struggling to afford your debts – but you reckon you could benefit from making your repayments simpler – you might want to consider consolidating your debts with a loan or a credit card.

If you’re willing & able to increase your monthly payments, you could cut the time it takes you to clear your debt altogether. Just bear in mind that securing a debt against your home (with a new ‘secured’ loan) could put your home at risk if you don’t keep up with payments.

Click here for some advice on consolidating your debts from Debt Advisory Centre Scotland (who supplied this article).

Don’t save too much! Have some fun!

Saving is really important, and you’ll probably be trying to reach a number of important savings goals – for example, a comfortable retirement, a ‘rainy day’ or helping your children with big financial goals (like a deposit on a house, or a wedding).

But when it comes to the rest of your savings, you have to think about why you were saving up in the first place. It’s likely that you did it so you could live comfortably and enjoy yourself without having to struggle. So don’t be scared to spend some of what you’ve saved!

As long as you can afford it, you can always draw on your hard-earned savings to enjoy the second half of your life – the bit that comes after 50.

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