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The realist’s guide to tackling your finances

Martyn James

8 Jan 2024

Leading consumer rights campaigner, TV and radio broadcaster and journalist Martyn James shares his approach to taking control of finances

Are you worried that you might have overspent this year? Does the thought of going through your credit cards, bank accounts and PayPal bills fill you with terror? You are not alone.


One of the main reasons why people get themselves in to difficult financial situations is facing down your finances can be scary. But the good news is there’s loads of help available if you have overspent. There are also great free organisations like StepChange who can help you if you are in financial difficulties.


If you are ready to tackle your spending, here’s my guide on how to do it as painlessly as possible.  


Do your finances in little chunks


I hate going through my bills and looking at what I’ve spent. Dealing with your debits can be a real endurance test – especially if you’ve let things go for a while. So tackle things a little bit at a time.


Firstly, get Little Birdie on it! The Little Birdie app can take the pain out of financial matters by showing you all your regular payments and subscriptions in one place along with your transaction history - helping you manage your outgoings. It can even tell you when regular contracts are coming up for renewal so you can find a better deal.


 If you want to be thorough, go through each bank account, credit card, store card and phone bill separately, (amazingly, you might be paying for other services on your phone bill and not know it). Start by noting down your main commitments… then walk away. It’s important to give yourself lots of breaks when budgeting so it doesn’t get on top of you.


Later, go back through your statements a few looking for payments you don’t recognise. These monthly and annual subscriptions can be cancelled and claimed back if you didn’t authorise them.


Divide your ‘to do’ list in to separate sections


Making a list can help your mind make sense of the tasks ahead of you. There are loads of free online tools you can use to do this. Or you can just go old school and write ‘em out on paper.


I divide my own lists in to ‘urgent’, followed by; money and finance, home and bills, complaints I need to make, friends and family things, health and welfare and things I need to follow up. Limit the number of lists – the more you have, the more likely you are to forget to follow them up (or lose them). Nothing beats putting a big tick next to a task that you’ve completed. 


Make complaints


Speaking of complaints, I’ve been working through my own list of businesses I need to tackle. Despite being a consumer rights campaigner, I hate making complaints just as much as everyone else. So here’s what I’d recommend to minimise a bad experience.


Take a few minutes to write down in your own words what you’re unhappy with – and what you want to sort things out. This will help you focus on the key issues and not get distracted. Many businesses are making it difficult to email them your complaint these days, so if you manage to speak to a person, tell them you want to make a formal complaint and ask them what the process is. To my intense annoyance, you might have to write a letter. If this is the case, make sure you shop the business to your MP, the regulator or Trading Standards. Just send them all the same cover letter.


Use apps and free websites


If you can think of it, there’s an app for it. When it comes to money and finance, there are loads of Open Banking apps like Little Birdie that you can use to stay on top of your finances, keep an eye on your spending and even save cash and win rewards. Look for the free, simple options, the more complex, the less likely you are to stick with it. Why not ask friends and family for recommendations?


To fail is to be human


I never manage to achieve all the things on my resolution list, so don’t worry about failing. Just focus on a few key things you need that will make you happier or less worried. If you get any of the rest, it’s a bonus. And allow yourself a reward when you achieve your goals too. You deserve it.

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