Money Mensch: New year, let's pile on those pounds

By Martin Lewis, January 13, 2011
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Fancy a 25 per cent pay rise? Well I can not promise that unfortunately, but if you have never sorted your finances, doing a blitz can sometimes save you the equivalent amount over a year.

So in what is a bit of a reverse money diet, here are my top ten money-saving new year resolutions to help you cut your bills without cutting back - or gaining pounds.

1. I resolve to … check my tax code to see if I'm owed £1,000s

The recent tax code fiasco means that at least five million people in the UK are paying the wrong amount of tax - and most have overpaid. This is all down to tax codes, the little piece of information that tells your employer how much it should take from you.

Swapping premium food brands for regular ones could save you up to £750 a year

A little code like "647L" seems innocuous, but can have a massive effect on your finances.

So, look on the back of your tax notice and check it is right. If not, you could be giving the government far more than needed.

Better still, dig out this year's code right now, and use the free www.taxcodechecker.com to see whether you are likely to be owed big money. The biggest success I have seen using it so far is a reclaim of £3,600.

2. I resolve to … stop my car chugging so much fuel

Think of your car's accelerator as a money pump. The harder you press it, the more you spend.

This isn't about not driving as fast, it is about not accelerating as hard.

By keeping the rev lower, speeding up gradually and thinking about road positioning, most people can lower petrol costs by a staggering 20 to 50 per cent. Just try it for one tank of petrol to see the impact.

Better still, surprisingly, it adds very little to journey times, as often we are simply accelerating, only to brake again a minute later.

3. I resolve to … give myself a financial health check

The most important financial test of all is a simple one.

Do you spend more than you earn? If so, you have a serious problem. It means either you will eat up all your money or rapidly build up debt. If not, then you can relax a touch, and know that you are financially stable.

To find out requires you to really budget. By that I don't mean willy-nilly looking at a month's expenditure. That misses out things such as summer holidays or buying a new sofa. I mean looking at your finances across a year.

To help, I have designed a free tool that will do the health check for you. It's at www.mse.me/budgeting

4. I resolve to … see if I'm entitled to any benefits or tax credits

While the government is planning to cut the social security net, that has not happened yet - and many people, both in employment and out of it, are seriously missing out.

A quick way to see if and what you are due is to do a quick five-minute benefit check up. You can do this at www.turn2us.org.uk

5. I resolve to … stop the energy companies taking my money

The typical home in the UK pays £1,250 a year for its gas and electricity on a standard tariff, but would pay only £950 on an online-billed tariff. With price hikes again hitting at the start of this year, now is the time to sort this out and save around £300.

So do a comparison and see how much you can save as soon as possible. Not only that, but by comparing and switching the right way, through special links, you can get around £30 added cashback on top or even a crate of wine. These links are listed at www.mse.me/gas

6. I resolve to … prepare for next Chanucah NOW

Buy your cheap wrapping paper, cards, chanucah decorations and even presents right now while they are going cheap.

Chanucah is a huge added expense for families. To try and pay this out of one month's salary is a nightmare. So put aside £50 a month now and you will have the money ready without any risk of borrowing.

7. I resolve to … cut my debt costs for the long term

If your recent spending has left you with a mountain of credit card debt, and you have got a good credit history, you should opt for a cheap balance transfer card.

While going for short-term 0 per cent deals is the most common move, actually most people are better off going for a 'life of balance' card. Here, you shift your debts to a new card, and lock-in at a low rate until all the debts shifted are repaid. For the latest 'best card' info see www.mse.me/bts

8. I resolve to … do the supermarket Downshift Challenge.

Experiment with dropping a brand level on everything you buy.

If you buy premium brands, such as Tesco Finest, swap it for a normal brand. If you buy Kellogg's cereal, try the supermarket's own version. And if you buy supermarket own, then try the 'value' or 'basics' range.

This alone will cut your bill by a third, yet you may not like all the cheaper things.

However, I have done this experiment many times on television shows, and consistently, when it comes to blind tasting, many families can only tell the difference on half of the items. Even if you only cut that out, it is a £750 a year saving. Look for the downshift challenge calculator at www.mysupermarket.co.uk

9.I resolve to … reclaim, reclaim, reclaim!

This year is the time to try and recoup all the cash that has been unfairly taken from you.

It may be that you are one of 100,000s who are in too high a council tax band and can get huge backdated payouts, or that you have got unused Tesco vouchers you can get back.

Perhaps you had a loan, credit or store card in the past six years and were missold expensive Payment Protection Insurance (PPI) with it and are due a reclaim.

The biggest so far is a £36,000 reclaim. See www.mse.me/reclaim for a full list

10. I resolve to … not auto renew my car insurance

If you just auto-renew your car and home insurance, stop. You are wasting a fortune, and can do so much better as a new customer.

Car insurance costs are shooting up this year, for some as many as 40 per cent, but by simply combining comparison sites you can slam that down. For those willing to really put the work in, even bigger savings are possible. The cheapest I have witnessed is just 96 pence for a year's fully comp. See www.mse.me/reclaim

    Last updated: 10:55am, January 13 2011