January is the month when most people begin to tackle their top two wellness goals: fitness and finance.
To help you with at least one of those, we have come up with six great ways to get on top of your money in 2020.
And the good news is these steps don’t need to be taken all at once (even the best fitness intentions can fall over that way, and it’s the same with money resolutions).
Start with one and hopefully you’ll be spurred on to the rest.
1. Fix any money leaks
The main aim: have more money going into your accounts than there is coming out. We know that’s easier said than done, especially in the post-Christmas months – but grab the chance for a New Year financial brush up.
Scrutinise your statements and work out where there are obvious leaks to plug. Do you use that gym subscription? What about making your home or your commute more energy and cost efficient? Or changing to credit cards with lower interest rates?
Are your current and savings accounts earning decent rates of interest and is your mortgage rate as good as it could be? Shopping around for better rates could leave you better off every month.
Consider creating a budget to track your spending carefully – use a spreadsheet, a budgeting app, or your bank may have useful online tools.
Then find ways to get clever discounts so there’s more left in your account every month. Try Money Saving Expert for inspiration, and cashback and price comparison sites.
Planning to cut back and still enjoy things? Take a leaf out of Carmen Quinn from Glasgow’s book. She decided to trim her spending in 2019 and is likely to do the same in 2020.
“We’ve ditched the budget-busting, summer family holiday abroad. Instead, we drove 2.5 hours to the Lake District with our teens, three teen friends and the dog.
“We stayed in a modest house, went hill walking most days, cooked in most nights and had not just a thrifty, but a memorably brilliant time.”
Shopping around: www.moneysavingexpert.com
2. Manage any debt
Take a close look at your debt. How could you pay it off more quickly, or more cheaply?
If you’re in more debt than you can handle, there’s support out there to help you. Talk to your bank, or Citizens Advice which has useful information on ways to manage debt and money – don’t struggle on alone.
"And the good news is these steps don’t need to be taken all at once."
3. Build your money moat (the ‘magic math’ budgeting tip)
Having savings lowers stress and can make you happier. Yes, you may have demands on your wallet, but it’s a great idea to start creating a pot of money that will be there for when you really need it.
Call it something good: your safety net, your cushion, your buffer, your money moat, and your stress buster.
It can start small, but with regular attention it will quickly grow. Just set up some money to regularly go out of your bank account and into your savings.
As Holly Johnson, blogger at The Simple Dollar says: “I call this the ‘magic math’ of paying yourself first. It’s not rocket science, and I certainly didn’t invent the idea, but I am totally obsessed with the results of this single budgeting tip.
“When you pay yourself first, you don’t have as much money left over to waste. Your savings, investments, and debt repayment obligations were paid already, so you’re forced to actually ‘live’ on the rest.”
4. …Build some bigger savings
Once you have an emergency cushion, think about saving for those bigger, longer-term goals.
You might want to consider saving into ISAs, with different ISAs to suit most people’s needs.
A cash ISA is much like a savings account. You get a bit of interest on what you save, you don’t pay tax on it and your money won’t be affected by any market ups and downs. It’s usually easy to access your money.
If you’re saving for something longer term, like sending children to university for example, a stocks and shares ISA lets you invest your money into – you guessed it – things like stocks and shares to get the chance of more growth. Of course, investments can go down as well as up in value and you could get back less than you invested.
When you take your money out of a cash or stocks and shares ISA, it’s tax-free.
There’s an overall £20,000 annual ISA savings limit (if you’re an adult). This can be split between cash and stocks and shares, to tailor your savings to your needs.
Find out more in What are ISAs, who are they for and when should I consider one?
5. Get ‘hygge’ with your pension in 2020
OK, deep breath: pensions… no, don’t run for the hills, just read on a little further. You are not too young or too old to pay attention to your pension.
Let’s not even call it a pension, let’s call it your financial future – your way to work less and live more. In fact, to borrow a word from the Danes, get ‘hygge’ with it to focus on your long-term wellness and contentment, whatever your life stage.
“It’s never too late to start your pension contributions,” says Lynn James, a leading personal finance blogger and founder of www.MrsMummypenny.co.uk
If you have an employer, they usually have to set up a workplace pension for you, with contributions coming directly out of your salary.
Your employer also puts money in and you get tax relief on what you save too. This is normally based on the rate of income tax you pay.
If you pay basic rate income tax you get 20% relief, so it normally only costs you £80 to save £100 into your pension. If you pay higher rates of tax, saving can cost you even less.
Not all pensions work the same when it comes to tax relief. But the effect is similar. Check how yours works with your provider.
You can pay in more of your money if you like and some employers may even pay more in if you do. “Future you” could thank you for it, though as a pension is an investment its value can go down as well as up and it may be worth less than was paid in.
Get an online login to keep track of how your pension is doing and that it’s invested how you want. Or try our pension calculator to see how much you could have in the future.
Pensions: Pensions and retirement
Find an adviser: www.unbiased.co.uk
6. De-clutter your past pensions (and other things)
Yes, once upon a time, your first job was your only job. Your one workplace pension plan, built up over your working life, took care of you when you retired.
But that was then and this is now.
Today, you might go from job to job many times – new figures suggest millennials change jobs every four years. As a result, little pension pots build up all over the place.
The good news is they could be worth more than you think. It’s definitely worth tracking any down, via your past employers, and getting up-to-date statements.
If it makes sense, you could simplify your life and transfer all those little pots into one pension plan which could be so much easier to manage. One pension provider, one set of charges and you can keep a close eye on how it’s performing.
Combining pensions won’t be the right thing for everyone. Your older pensions may have valuable benefits and there’s no guarantee of a better pension as a result. You may need to take some financial advice here on your own individual circumstances.
If you’re considering advice and don’t have an adviser, you can find one in your area on unbiased.co.uk. Or visit the Standard Life website for more information about financial advice and 1825, Financial Planning from Standard Life*.
Lost pensions: Government pension tracker
And finally – keep it real!
By 1 January you may well be training for a half-marathon (or at least thinking about it), cutting out the chocolate and vowing never to spend more than £30 a week… but keep it real!
How about upping your fruit and veg, easing yourself back into exercise and consider doing just one of the things on our list every month?
Then, by the end of June, a healthier, fitter, and much more financially sorted ‘new you’ could be revealed.
* 1825 is a trading name for the Standard Life Aberdeen group’s advice business.
All articles correct at time of issue. The information here is based on our understanding in December 2019 and should not be taken as financial advice.
Laws and tax rules may change in the future and your own personal circumstances will have an impact on tax treatment. The value of investments can go down as well as up and may be worth less than was paid in.
Standard Life accepts no responsibility for the information contained in the websites referred to in this article. These are provided for general information only.