Debt advisers share 8 money saving secrets including cutting grocery bills
DEBT advisors help thousands of people get back on track with their finances.
Instead of telling people what to do they will carefully try and assess how you can reduce your outgoings, as well as giving you practical advice on what to do about your debts.
Along the way they've picked up top tips on how to manage their own finances.
We spoke to Stepchange debt advisers Catherine Cooper, 27, from Wakefield and Samantha Carter, 27, who lives in Bradford about their saving money secrets, in the next instalment of our Consumer Crew's Fix Your Finances series.
Free debt advice service Stepchange estimates that 2.5million people are now facing a financial crisis – double the number before the pandemic – and there is now around £10billion worth of debt and arrears that has built up since March.
That's why we want to help you manage your money – and our aim is to make you richer in 2021.
We share Samatha and Catherine’s top tips:
ALWAYS PAY YOUR PRIORITY DEBTS FIRST
If you don’t pay your priority debts then you could end up losing your home or in prison.
Samantha says: “Credit card companies usually shout the loudest.
“But your priority debts are really your mortgage, rent and things like your council tax.”
“If you’re unsure then a debt advisor will coach you through making calls and explain what you need to tell creditors if you’re in trouble.”
“They can arrange to take over this process for you – but this could affect your credit score.”
DON’T GET TRIPPED UP BY COUNCIL TAX
If you get behind on your Council Tax then you will be told that you are no longer allowed to pay in installments and you will be asked to pay the whole amount at once.
But there is an alternative that many don’t know about.
Catherine says: “This is the last thing anyone needs when they’re already struggling to keep on top of the household bills.
“It can be really worrying – but don’t panic.
“Tell your council that you’re struggling and ask to set up a repayment plan that you can afford.”
Remember to check if you can get a council tax benefit or if you are due a reduction, for example if you live alone.
BE DISLOYAL TO LOYALTY CARDS
Don’t let the reason you shop at a particular supermarket or shop be because you want to collect more loyalty points. Always hunt out the cheapest prices.
Samantha says: “There are loads of perks to using loyalty card – but you don’t have to stick to the same supermarket all the time.
“Get into the habit of shopping around, both online and offline.”
TRY A ‘EAT THE KITCHEN’ CHALLENGE
Try and use up everything you already have in your kitchen before doing your next “big food shop.”
Catherine says: “Have a look at tins and jars in your cupboard as well as checking your fridge and freezer.
FIX YOUR FINANCES
THE SUN’S Consumer Crew series is here to help you Fix Your Finances.
We want to help make you richer in 2021 by transforming your finances.
As always, we will fight your corner. Next week our our Consumer Crew panel will also be on hand to help answer your money questions or problems.
Send your questions to: [email protected]
“Make a list of everything you find and order it by food type, for example: fruit and veg, proteins, carbs etc.
“This should help you think more creatively about the dishes you can make without buying any more ingredients.”
DEBT ADVISORS HAVE STRUGGLED TOO
Before Catherine started working for Stepchange November 2018 she had been working in a gym and had amassed £5,000 in credit card and payday loan debts.
“I think it was a case of growing up a bit,” she says.
“I was 23, I moved out of home and ended up using credit cards and payday loans to make ends meet.
“I was just like our callers, terrified of the letters or speaking to creditors.
“That’s why I can completely relate to the people who are frightened or scared to look at their post or take a phone call because that is how I used to feel.”
She moved back in with her parents and cleared the debts within two years. Now she is debt free and saving to buy a house while still living with her parents.
CLEAN FOR LESS
Households spend £130 a year on average on cleaning products – and one of the priciest ones is laundry detergent.
But there is a way to cut the cost in half.
Samantha says: “Most of us obediently use the recommended amount, but it’s not always necessary.
“Unless you’re dealing with stubborn stains, you can get away with using half, or one tablet instead of two.
“You’ll also get better results if you pre-soak any heavy stains overnight before washing them.
“I like to top up my detergent with baking soda to make it go a bit further too.”
YOU DON’T HAVE TO LET BAILIFFS IN
Before the pandemic, it was common for Samantha and Catherine to get a phone call from someone with a bailiff knocking on their door.
This can be upsetting and distressing and bailiff doorstep visits allowed again they urge people to know their rights.
Catherine says: “You don’t have to let them in. They should always send you a letter before they visit to check if you’re self isolating or vulnerable.
How to cut the cost of your debt
IF you’re in large amounts of debt it can be really worrying. Here are some tips from Citizens Advice on how you can take action.
Check your bank balance on a regular basis – knowing your spending patterns is the first step to managing your money
Work out your budget – by writing down your income and taking away your essential bills such as food and transport
If you have money left over, plan in advance what else you’ll spend or save. If you don’t, look at ways to cut your costs
Pay off more than the minimum – If you’ve got credit card debts aim to pay off more than the minimum amount on your credit card each month to bring down your bill quicker
Pay your most expensive credit card sooner – If you have more than one credit card and can’t pay them off in full each month, prioritise the most expensive card (the one with the highest interest rate)
Prioritise your debts – If you’ve got several debts and you can’t afford to pay them all it’s important to prioritise them
Your rent, mortgage, council tax and energy bills should be paid first because the consequences can be more serious if you don't pay
Get advice – If you’re struggling to pay your debts month after month it’s important you get advice as soon as possible, before they build up even further
Groups like Citizens Advice and National Debtline can help you prioritise and negotiate with your creditors to offer you more affordable repayment plans
“If they do come then you can ask to speak to them outside.”
They should only visit between 6am and 9pm. You should ask them for proof of who they are.
Ask them for a full breakdown of what they are collecting.
They should leave if you refuse to let them in – but it’s important to seek help asap as otherwise your fees may increase.
Find out more about your rights via Citizens Advice.
GETTING HELP COULD CHANGE YOUR LIFE
If you’re still struggling, then get help from a free debt advice charity like Stepchange, National Debtline or Citizens Advice.
Samantha says: “If you’re worrying then pick up the phone and we will help you.
“Get help as soon as you can – but just know that it’s never too late.
“We are free, impartial and there’s no obligation to take the advice.”
Catherine says: “I would plead with you to get help, whether that’s speaking to a friend or picking up the phone. Don’t keep it to yourself.
“It could lead you to a different life where things get so much better.”
Yesterday, we shared our top 11 tips for fixing your finances in lockdown.
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