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At Starling, we believe in talking about money and opening up the conversation. That’s why we’ve asked personal finance writer Rosie Bannister to become our money agony aunt. She’ll answer all your money questions, from travel and budgeting to savings, debt and more. We’ll publish selected answers once a month, here on the blog.

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My issue is that I never seem to have any money left at the start of the year. I’ve spent almost everything, usually on holidays, although I never go that far. How can I organise my life to start saving money?

After the excesses of the festive period, it’s easy to feel like there’s a hole in your bank account draining cash as soon as it comes in. But don’t worry, there are lots of ways you can cut back on your spending and save money all year round. Here’s a rundown of some of the options.

Budget, budget, budget

First things first, it’s crucial you know exactly where your money’s going. Take the time to figure out what you spend in a year - it’s important to do it over more than just a month so you get a full picture including big one-off expenses like holidays and Christmas.

There are tools online to help you like this one from the Money Advice Service, or you can create your own spreadsheet or even go down the old-fashioned pen and paper route. Choose whichever way best helps you visualise your spending.

Once you know what you spend it’s worth setting up a budget for the year, with goal amounts of what you want to spend in various categories. Then, track what you’re spending each month - this means everything, it’s easy to forget about one-off payments taken directly from your account. How about the TV licence or your car MOT? Or those little contactless taps? Starling gives you a monthly breakdown for various categories in the Spending Insights tab, or you can choose to write everything down yourself.

Pay less for what you’re already using

One of the easiest ways to save money is to pay less for your everyday bills. By switching provider you can often save £100s/year, especially if you’ve been languishing with the same company for yonks. Here are things it’s worth checking:

  • Energy
  • Broadband
  • Mobile
  • Insurance (car, home etc)
  • Credit card - if you’re paying interest it’s worth seeing if you can transfer the balance to a 0% deal
  • Any other regular payment you make - spend some time researching if you can get it cheaper elsewhere

Check if you’re chucking cash away

Go through any direct debits or recurring payments you have set up and double check you’re not paying for anything you no longer use. That gym membership or Amazon Prime subscription you signed up for years ago could still be costing you. Cancel it and voilà, that money will no longer disappear each month.

Small changes can make big differences

If you stop buying that £2 coffee every day at work, at the end of the year you’ll have around £500 more in your account. Other ways to make savings include making your own lunch, walking instead of driving or getting public transport, and shifting down a brand in the supermarket.

Cut the cost of your hols

It sounds like a lot of your spending is on holidays. Obviously the best money saver would be to cut one (or more) of your annual getaways, but if they’re important to you there are ways to make savings:

  • Get cheap flights. Use comparison sites like Kayak, Momondo and Skyscanner to make sure you’re getting the best deal. Plus if you can be flexible on dates or location, you can sometimes nab a bargain
  • Pay less for where you stay. Accommodation can be super pricey, but there are ways to fork out less. As with flights, always check comparison sites to find the cheapest option. Happy to not know exactly where you’re staying? You can also get ‘secret hotel’ rooms from sites like Lastminute, which are often cheaper. If you’re happy to forgo luxury, hostels are generally the cheapest option - but always check reviews on somewhere like Tripadvisor before you book
  • Go away in the UK. This is often a cheaper way to have a holiday, so it’s worth investigating if you’re happy to stay closer to home
  • Don’t pay fees to spend overseas. Many credit and debit cards charge around 3% on every spend or withdrawal you make abroad. Make sure you’ve got one of the ones that don’t charge any fees at all (like Starling)

Make saving automatic

A good way to save money is to put it aside as soon as you get paid - you could set up a direct debit to move a certain amount, say £100, into a savings account every payday. That way you’re less likely to spend it, as it’s not just sitting in your current account.

Another option is rounding up to the nearest £1 every time you spend and moving that money into a savings account. A few banks, including Starling, offer this feature and you might be surprised at how quickly it can add up.

See if you can increase your income

Ok, so you’ve done your budget and made some savings. Great work! Still want to have more left over at the end of the year? See if you can increase your income. The most obvious way to do this is to ask for a pay rise at work.

Though this can seem daunting, there are lots of books and websites with content on how to ask for one. Try explaining what added value you’re bringing to your workplace, and benchmarking your salary against others doing similar roles.

If that’s a no-go, here are some other things to try:

  • Get a side hustle, for example selling things you make online or tutoring
  • Sign up to cashback websites like Quidco and Topcashback to earn money back when you spend at certain retailers
  • Mystery dining - get your meal paid for in return for a detailed questionnaire about your visit
  • Complete online surveys

Hopefully these suggestions have given you lots of inspiration for how you might start organising your life to save money. Good luck!

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