There are many reasons that people fall into debt, from illness to job loss or a relationship breakdown. One unexpected bill can spiral to an unmanageable amount if left unpaid and short-term high-interest loans can cause financial difficulties further down the line.
Insecure working conditions, such as zero hours, can affect both finances and general wellbeing. Money and mental health issues often go hand in hand, as seen in this BBC report on How Debt Kills (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-sh/How_debt_kills), a case study of how spiralling debt can lead to a breakdown in mental health and loss of life.
However, even those earning a good salary can find themselves in debt if they fail to manage their finances well.
Managing personal finances
Keeping tabs on your income and expenditure – money in, money out – is the first step to managing your personal finances.
If you are a salaried employee, your wage slip will tell you how much you earn after tax and National Insurance (NI) has been deducted.
If you are self-employed, you will need to put money aside for your tax and NI costs. You should take into account any work-related expenditure, for example, buying a new computer or phone for work use, as this can reduce your tax liabilities. An accountant can give you tax planning advice and compete your tax return for you, or you can use the Gov.UK to estimate your tax and NI bill in advance: https://www.gov.uk/self-assessment-ready-reckoner
5 ways to manage your budget
Here are some tips to help you manage how much money you spend. You can use our handy spreadsheet as a guide.
- Keep a record – work out how much you spend every month on essentials, such as rent, food, gas/electric, travel to work etc. Then work out your additional expenditure on things such as entertainment, socialising, clothes and holidays.
- Work out the difference between your income and expenditure – Are you spending more than you are bringing in? If so, how much more and where can you cut down? Are you saving up for a treat such as a holiday, or are you going into debt and struggling to pay it off afterwards? Monitor your bills and spending on a regular basis, ideally once a week, and don’t leave bills unopened. Keep everything in one place so that bills and receipts are easy to find.
- Save if you can – granted, it’s not easy on a low income, but putting aside a small amount every month can help you cover any unexpected bills or save for something special. The best approach is to arrange an automatic transfer of a fixed amount into a savings account every month.
- Find ways to budget – avoid impulse purchases and spending sprees. When you’re buying something new, ask yourself, can you afford it and do you really need it?
Some other tips for reducing your spending:
- Switch your utilities to a cheaper provider, check online for special offers for new customers.
- Set up a direct debit for monthly bills to make them more manageable. However, if you can put money aside in advance, it can be cheaper to purchase things like car insurance annually. When your insurance renewals come around, phone the company and ask if they can offer any reduction – they will often do so to keep you as a customer.
- Can you reduce your travel costs by car sharing or walking to work? This can also increase your fitness levels and improve your wellbeing.
- Charity shops, online auction sites and Freecycle can be a great source of cheap or free clothes or items you need for the home.
- Visit your local market for cheaper food, especially fruit and veg, or buy from the offers on the end of supermarket aisles. Making meals from scratch and buying in bulk are invariably cheaper; you can always freeze any leftovers.
- Change your socialising habits. Invite friends round for a film night with a bottle of wine, and save on expensive drinks in a bar plus cab fare home.
- Look at your daily spend – what small but regular purchases can you cut down on? Do you need to buy a coffee on the way to work and could you take in your own sandwiches for lunch rather than visiting a café or takeaway?
- Don’t take on additional credit cards if you can’t pay for your current ones. Keep your cards locked away so you’re less likely to use them and don’t save your card details on online shopping sites. Take out your weekly spending in cash at the start of the week and avoid using your cards
Increase your income
Ask for a raise. Write out any key benefits you have brought to the company – this might be bringing in new customers, training new starters, supervising other staff members or suggesting initiatives that have saved the company money. If you are stuck with no sign of progression, be proactive. Put together an up-to-date CV, visit some job sites and sign up with a recruitment agency. Alternatively, find out about other ways to advance and increase your salary, such as training courses or starting an apprenticeship.
For more information
If you are already in debt and can’t see a way out, don’t despair. Sorting out the problem may seem overwhelming, but breaking it down into individual tasks can help, as can talking to a trusted friend or family member.
Visit your GP if you have mental health issues and are in debt. They should be able to issue you with a Debt and Mental Health Evidence Form (DMHEF) to give to creditors.
Don’t hope that problems will go away. Arrange a meeting with your bank or talk to an online adviser.
Organisations that can help you include:
Citizen’s Advice Bureau
National Debt Line