Many of us will be resolving to get into better shape in 2018. But that shouldn’t only be a physical resolution: there are plenty of things we can all do to ensure our finances are in a healthier state too.
1. Move your debt
Are you sitting on credit card debt? If so, you certainly aren’t the only one - figures from The Money Charity reveal that in September 2017, the total credit card debt in the UK stood at a whopping £69.4 billion. That’s the equivalent of more than £2,500 per household.
If that debt is on an interest-charging credit card, then paying it off will cost you even more as a chunk of your monthly repayments will go towards the interest, rather than reducing the debt. But move it to a 0% balance transfer credit card and you can pay it off in manageable chunks, without paying a penny in interest.
Currently, you can enjoy 38 months of 0% interest from a trio of cards, from Barclaycard, Tesco, and Virgin Money, though you will have to pay a transfer fee ranging from 1.4% to 2.69% of the balance transferred.
Alternatively, you could make use of a card with a smaller 0% period but which doesn’t charge a transfer fee, such as the Sainsbury’s 28-Month Balance Transfer Credit Card, which offers more than two years of interest-free borrowing.
If you moved a debt of £2,500 onto this card, and made monthly repayments of £90, you’d clear the debt without paying a penny in interest in 28 months.
On a card with a 17.2% APR, and the same monthly repayment, it would take 36 months to clear the debt, costing you £740 extra.
How much better off will I be? Up to £740
2. Cashback/reward credit cards
Fancy getting rewarded when you spend money? If you are the sort of person that clears their credit card bill in full every month, then you should be using a card that offers you something back when you spend with it.
For example, the Tesco Purchases Credit Card rewards you with one Clubcard point for every £4 spent in Tesco or for every £8 spent elsewhere. If you spend £6,000 a year in Tesco you’ll earn rewards worth £75, equivalent to 1.25% of your total spend.
Alternatively, you could cut the cost of next year’s holiday by earning Avios points with the British Airways Amex Card.
You could also go for cold, hard cash with a card that pays cashback on your spending. The American Express Platinum Cashback Everyday Card pays 5% cashback on your spending in the first three months (capped at £100), followed by 1% so long as you spend more than £5,000 over the year. Spend £750 a month, and over the first year you’ll earn £167.50.
How much better off will I be? £75 minimum
3. Move your bank account
A host of banks pay a welcome bonus to new customers, though you will generally need to be a customer for a few months before you receive the payment. However, if you switch now, then that bonus will still arrive in your account in the first quarter of 2017.
For example, you can get £100 with First Direct’s 1st Account, while Halifax’s Current Account, Reward Current Account or Ultimate Reward Current Account will see you pocket £75.
Then there’s Marks & Spencer, where you get a £125 gift card when you switch, which is then topped up by £5 in every month in which you deposit £1,000 into the account during the first year. Overall, this account could bag you £185.
How much better off will I be? Up to £185
4. Switch your mortgage
Base rate may have risen recently but mortgage rates remain at some of the lowest levels ever seen. As a result, it’s a good idea to keep shopping around to ensure you are on the best possible deal.
We aren’t talking about small change here either. A study last year by broker L&C found that mortgage holders who are currently sat on their lender’s standard variable rate (SVR) - that’s the rate you move onto at the end of your fixed period if you don’t then remortgage - could save as much as £216 a month (£2,592 a year) on their repayments by moving to a new deal.
How much better off will I be? Up to £2,500
5. Switch your energy tariff
You don’t need me to tell you that it’s a bit parky out there at the moment, so most of us are turning on the central heating far more often. These next few months are the most expensive when it comes to energy use, and often coincide with suppliers announcing price rises.
The trouble is, many of us don’t bother switching energy deals. A recent survey by comparison site GoCompare suggested that only one in five have shopped around for a new deal in the last year, while 12% have never switched. If you don’t switch every couple of years, you end up on your supplier’s standard tariff, which is usually their most expensive.
GoCompare found that of those who had switched in the last year, more than half had saved at least £138.
How much better off will I be? At least £138
6. Sign up to a cashback website
Cashback websites are a great way to make a little money back every time you shop online. Search for the retailer you want to shop with on a cashback site, and then follow the tracked link to the retailer's site. You’ll then receive a percentage of your spend back in the form of cashback.
Cashback sites to consider include:
According to TopCashback, its members earn an average of £325 a year in cashback on their spending.
How much better off will I be? £325 on average
7. Rent out your space
If you have a spare room, you could take advantage of the government’s Rent a Room scheme and take in a lodger. The scheme means you don’t pay any tax on the first £7,500 you receive in rent.
According to Spareroom, the average rent for a single room in the UK now stands at £456 per month (£5,472 a year).
Alternatively, you could rent out your home when you’re away through a site such as Airbnb. Renting out a four-bedroom property in Hertfordshire, for example, would secure you almost £600 a week on average.
Even if you don’t have a whole room to spare, you could turn what space you do have into an income through a site called Storemates.co.uk, letting it out to people that are looking for storage for their belongings. You can even rent out the space under your bed.
How much better off will I be? Around £5,500 on average
8. Become a mystery shopper
Mystery shopping is very easy and offers a simple way to make a little extra money in your free time. The idea is that you pose as a genuine customer, and then review the service on offer from specific retailers.
Mystery shopper agencies to consider include Market Force UK and Checkout UK.
At the time of going to press, projects with Market Force included reviewing Next, Pizza Express, River Island and William Hill. You’ll tend to get around £5 for an assignment, plus expenses.
How much better off will I be? £250
9. Move your Isa
You can save up to £20,000 each tax year in an individual savings account (Isa), and the returns you enjoy are absolutely tax free.
The interest rates available on Cash Isas today aren’t exactly the stuff of dreams, but you can at least ensure a better return on your savings pot by moving your Isa balance to a better deal.
According to financial information site Moneyfacts, the average rate of interest available on a cash Isa now stands at just 1.04%. At the time of writing, the best rate from a one-year Isa that accepts transfers of previous years’ balances is the 1.4% Isa on offer from Teachers Building Society.
On a balance of £20,000, over a 12-month period, that means an extra £72 in interest over the average Cash Isa rate.
How much better off will I be? £72
10. Claim the marriage allowance
Married couples are able to reduce their tax bill by as much as £220 a year, thanks to the marriage allowance. This tax break allows those who earn less than £11,500 a year to pass some of their personal allowance (the amount you earn free of income tax each year) on to their higher-earning partner as long as they don't earn more than £45,000 (£43,000 in Scotland).
It is open to those who are married or in a civil partnership.
How much better off will I be? Up to £230
11. Track down old bank accounts
Many of us forget about old, lost bank accounts - it’s estimated that as much as £850 million is sitting in those accounts right now.
Thankfully, finding out if you have one is very simple thanks to the Mylostaccount.org.uk website, which was set up by the British Bankers’ Association, the Building Societies Association, and National Savings & Investments (NS&I). A simple search on there could quickly see you reunited with your cash. According to NS&I, the average amount retraced from its old accounts stands at a whopping £1,942.
How much better off will I be? About £2,000.
12. Claim what you are entitled to!
A shockingly high number of us are not claiming benefits to which we are entitled. According to Turn2us, a national charity that helps people in financial hardship, almost half of low income households are not claiming the benefits and tax credits they could, with around £16.6 billion in welfare support going unclaimed each year.
Be sure to check its easy-to-use calculator at Benefits-calculator.turn2us.org.uk to see if you’re missing out.
How much better off will I be? Up to £500.
13. Check your tax code
Are you paying too much tax? If so, you certainly aren’t alone. According to the National Audit Office, more than three million people have been placed on the wrong tax code in the past couple of years and could be owed hundreds back.
As a result, checking your tax code is a smart move. You can find your tax code on your pay slip – it will be made up of a letter and number. The number makes clear how much you can earn free of tax each year. Most people have a code of 1150L, meaning they earn £11,500 before paying tax.
How much better off will I be? Up to £300.
14. Flog your old stuff
One person’s junk is another’s treasure, so when clearing out your cupboards don’t just bin it: see if you can turn it into cash.
For example, if you are sitting on old mobile phones or other devices that you no longer need, see what you can get from one of the many mobile recycling sites such as Mazuma or Envirofone. For example, at the time of writing, you can get £120 for a 16GB iPhone 6 from Mazuma. Go via a cashback site and you may pocket even more.
It’s important to do your homework first though, as some recycling sites have a poor reputation for changing their offer for spurious reasons when receiving the handset.
For other items, such as clothes, CDs or books, you can use auction sites such as eBay or even attempt a boot sale.
How much better off will I be? At least £100.
15. Ditch your subscriptions
Many of us are shelling out money each and every month on subscriptions we neither want nor need. A study by charity Citizens Advice found that over a three-month period consumers paid an average of £160 (£640 a year) on unwanted subscriptions, ranging from gym memberships to online streaming services.
Go through your bank statement to see exactly where money is going each month. And if you’re paying for something you don’t need, cancel.
How much better off will I be? £640 on average
16. Get paid for your opinions
There are lots of different ways that you can make a bit of extra money from your opinions. Online surveys can be completed in a matter of minutes and, while you won’t make a fortune from them, you will get a little extra pocket money for very little effort. Sites to consider include Valued Opinions and Opinion Outpost.
You can make a fair bit more by signing up with a focus group. You’ll need to attend meetings in person, but the money can be pretty good – around £50 for an hour’s session is not unusual with the likes of Focus4people.
How much better off will I be? Up to £600 (based on attending one focus group session a month)
17. Get the flu
You can make some decent money by signing up to take part in medical experiments. For example, sign up with the Flu Camp at Flucamp.com and you’ll be paid up to £3,750, in exchange for taking part in an outpatient or residential trial lasting up to 14 days.
How much better off will I be? Up to £3,750.
18. Give your investments a makeover
2017 saw a tumultuous year for the FTSE 100, hitting a new record high on two separate occasions but with some hair-raising drops along the way too. As investors, there’s nothing we can do about the movements of the stock markets, but we can control what we pay our fund managers and platforms for our investments.
Last year a mystery shopping exercise by money expert Andrew Hagger found that Isa savers with £30,000 invested in one of the nation’s main platforms could slice as much as £230 a year off their fees by moving to a cheaper platform.
Similarly, it’s worth checking precisely what fees your fund manager is getting and whether they are earning them; 2017 has been a difficult year for some supposed ‘superstar’ fund managers, so if you think they aren’t worth the money you are paying, be sure to switch to someone who is.
How much better off will I be? Up to £230