THIS is the time of year when the nation starts belt tightening. A new book Money Fight Club gives tips to fight for the best for your finances
Muhammad Ali, one of Money Fight Club?s role models, used to ?float like a butterfly and sting like a bee?. This approach holds as true for your finances as it does in the boxing ring.
Too often we see money management as a time-consuming pursuit ? researching the best home for your savings, contesting a low payout from an insurance company, sorting out pensions.
But there are a huge number of quick wins that sting providers and float the pounds and the pennies back into your wallet.
Glove up and follow me.
Some of the fastest victories are to do with your home. For example, when was the last time you actually picked up the phone and spoke to your energy provider (or providers if you pay for your gas and electricity separately)?
Even if you reckon you haven?t got the time to use a price comparison website like uSwitch or moneysupermarket.com, to compare what you?re paying with all the other providers, you could at least pick up the phone to see if you would be better off on another tariff with your current provider.
Heck, they even print the phone number on your bill. It?s useful to have up-to-date meter readings and recent bills ready before you call.
If you pay your energy bill ?manually? when it comes in, you can make an instant saving of five per cent on your energy bills by opting to pay by direct debit.
Make sure your energy company doesn?t set the monthly amount too high. If you end up too much in credit, demand the money back. And what about cutting your consumption ? right now:
Always turn lights off when you leave a room.
Turn the heating down a couple of degrees.
Don?t boil a full kettle if you only want a cup.
Only do full loads in the washing machine or dishwasher.
Cut draughts in older homes by insulating around windows and using draft excluders on doors.
In at the deep end
Check your water bill. You may be paying for things you don?t use. For example, if you can prove that surface rainwater from your property doesn?t drain into the public sewer, you may be entitled to a rebate.
Regulator Ofwat and the Consumer Council for Water are good sources of information. If you have a water meter, reduce your consumption. You pay only for what you use.
Those without meters pay for what the companies estimate they will use based on the rateable value of their home.
My personal favourite is keeping an egg-timer in the shower. Too often people think that showering is always cheaper than soaking in the tub and then spend 20 minutes under a power shower.
Teenagers are some of the worst offenders and you may have to get tough but it?s worth the angst.
Again, there are a huge number of water-related quick wins:
Reduce the water when you flush the loo ? you can get a bag that sits in the cistern for this.
The full load of washing saves water as well as power.
There is a wonderful low-tech device that few of us use but really does make a difference to your water consumption ? it?s called a plug.
Call time on phone bills
Get that egg timer out of the shower and stick it by the phone when you plan to make longer phone calls. A lot of cheap rate phone deals come with a 60-minute per call limit.
Go over that time and the call charges start to stack up. Ring off after 50 minutes and redial. Check your call plan.
Phones ? both mobile and landlines ? are small devices that allow us to haemorrhage money. The good news is we can hit these bills in a way that they will bruise service provider profits and not our bank balances.
For example, if you have a BT landline you can save £4.60 a month just by paying for the line annually rather than as part of your monthly bill.
Watch out for premium rate lines that will rabbit punch your phone bill. Insurance companies often use premium lines when we are making a claim. When you get through the first time ask for a cheaper number to call or get them to call you back. Being put on hold and listening to awful waiting music will be less irritating if you are not paying 40p or more a minute for the privilege.
Trains don?t take the strain ? they cause it. Always, always claim for train delays. There have been lots of delays and cancellations caused by storms, floods and landslips and while most passengers get angry on the day too few claim for the lost journeys.
Those with season tickets can make claims online or by using a delay repayment form. It may be worth keeping a stack of them at home.
Find out when off-peak and super off-peak start. Different rail companies have different times for cheaper train travel.
For example, at my local station off-peak starts at 9am, 9.18 or 10.14 depending on where you are travelling to. Find out what the rules are and time journeys accordingly.
Even have a word with your boss about starting and finishing later. Find out what rail cards you might be able to buy to get an extra discount on off-peak fares.
Plan one-off journeys well in advance if you can ? so long as you know you?re not going to have to change your arrangements.
If you travel to and from a station regularly, be charming to the staff who regularly work behind the counter. If they get to know you and you?re always pleasant they will go the extra mile when working out your best journey option. But don?t turn up at rush hour with a list of questions about routes and expect personal service.
Money, money, money
Don?t save when you owe. If you are overdrawn or have credit card or store card debts do not keep a nest egg for a rainy day. The rainy day has arrived.
Use savings usually earning less than the rate of inflation, to reduce debts that often cost 27 per cent plus.
Don?t run the risk of being late with a card payment. Missing or being late with credit card payment can almost rival payday loan rates.
For example, a forgotten credit card bill for £6.70 incurred a £12 penalty and around £1 interest. This was almost 200 per cent over one month and the £6.70 still needed to be paid.
On top of that the cardholder got a black mark on his credit profile.
Always ensure there is money in your bank to pay a credit card direct debit or make a note in your diary for seven days before a bill is due if you plan to pay it by phone or at the bank.
Never use your credit card to get cash. Unlike debit cards these are not free. There is usually a 3 per cent charge plus an interest rate of about 27.9 per cent on the loan.
On top of this if you use a machine in a convenience store you may end up paying, for example, another £1.50 per withdrawal.