Answer the following questions:
How would you describe your attitude towards managing your money?
A. I feel overwhelmed and don’t really know where to start.
B. I know there are things I should do, but I keep putting them off.
C. I think things are okay, but that is more through luck than planning.
D. I keep on top of my money matters, but am happy to find out more.
How far does your money stretch?
A. It’s a worry. I have money problems and my debts feel unmanageable.
B. It’s difficult. I’m struggling to make ends meet.
C. It’s okay. I can mostly afford what I need but there’s nothing left over.
D. It’s fine. I can afford everything I need and can save too.
Are you saving regularly at the moment?
A. No, it’s definitely not a priority right now.
B. No, but I think I should start soon.
C. Yes, but it probably isn’t enough.
D. Yes, I save a good percentage of my salary every month.
How much do you rely on borrowing (overdrafts, loans, credit or store cards)?
A. It’s essential. I couldn’t manage day to day without borrowing money.
B. It’s all planned. I have some borrowing, but mainly for big things I can’t afford like my car.
C. No problems, I pay off my cards in full each month.
D. I don’t borrow money except for my mortgage.
Do you have some money set aside that you could use if something unexpected came up that wasn't covered by insurance?
A. No, and I’m not sure if I could borrow any money.
B. No, I would have to borrow the money.
C. I’m not sure. I do have some savings, but it isn’t a lot.
D. I have money put aside for a ‘rainy day’ and could get to it easily.
- If you answered mostly B's or C's to the previous questions and are ready to make some changes to your financial health, you would benefit from getting a financial overview of your family’s spending patterns. You need to get a complete picture of your spending – from the big household bills right down to your cup of coffee in the morning. Following the steps throughout this guide will ensure you are getting all the money you are entitled to and not making savings where you can.
- If you answered mostly A's and things still seem unmanageable when you have reviewed your finances, then you may also wish to consider speaking to the RCN’s specialist debt advisers about your situation (available to RCN members only). They can explore other options with you to help you manage your debts.
- If you answered mostly D's then you are doing really well. However, you may wish to consider if you are getting the most from your money by speaking to Lighthouse. You can also explore other money-saving tips and sources of income by reading on through the guide.
While most of us will have left school with a reasonable grounding in English and maths, we will often have been given little education at all in personal finances.
This important area has long been neglected, and with personal finance becoming more complex, it is never too late to become ‘money wise’.
The starting point for budgeting is to work out what you have got coming in. This might seem like stating the obvious, but when was the last time you sat down and spent 30 minutes looking at your personal budget?
There is little point in doing this only once a year – it needs to be regularly reviewed to take account of changes in your lifestyle and larger one-off outgoings.
If you start the month by looking at your income and expected outgoings then there are less likely to be any surprises towards the end of month. You will be better able to see where there may be shortfalls and plan accordingly.
There are some great budgeting tools which can be reviewed on a regular basis, and they are comprehensive enough to take into account irregular spending, such as car servicing and house maintenance.
This really highlights the dent those occasional coffees and magazines make in your spending.
For example, it may make you think more seriously about buying a daily £2.50 coffee and 80p bottled water when you consider that just one coffee and a bottle of water every week day will cost you about £860 a year.
Once you have done a comprehensive budget, check your bank balance regularly. The easiest way to do this is with online banking or by using text alerts.
You may well be entitled to extra income through in-work benefits and other schemes. The Government currently estimates that up to a million people are eligible for, but don’t claim, Tax Credits and other benefits. One of them could be you.
Check the Turn2Us website to see if there may be additional money that you are not currently claiming. Or use the calculator to get a personal overview of any other benefits you might be missing out on.
Working optimum hours
There are several in-work benefits that are only paid to you if you are working a certain number of hours. Check whether you could receive additional income by increasing your working time by just a few hours a week. You may find that by increasing your part-time hours you can access additional financial help with registered childcare too.
Use the Turn2Us calculator to work out if you would be better off working some extra hours.
Everyone’s situation is different. Remember to factor any potential extra costs associated with doing extra hours, such as travel costs, into any better-off calculations you do.
Council tax reduction
If you are living alone or are the only adult in your house liable to pay council tax, then you may be entitled to a 25% discount on your council tax bill. Apply through your local authority council tax office.
If you are paying for registered childcare, then there are several options that may be available to you for help towards paying the fees. Make sure you look at all your options before deciding on a particular scheme. Depending on your circumstances one may provide more financial support than another, and in some cases you will only be able to opt for one scheme.
Support for families with children aged two
Families in England can apply if they are working and receiving Tax Credits and have an annual income under £16,190 before tax or Universal Credit with a combined income of £15,400 or less.
You’ll also be eligible if the following apply to your child:
- they have a current statement of special education needs (SEN) or an education, health and care (EHC) plan
- they receive a Disability Living Allowance.
If eligible, you are entitled to 570 hours of free childcare a year, to use flexibly.
This scheme is available at participating nurseries and nursery classes, playgroups and pre-school, childminders and Sure Start Children’s Centres. It is available from 1 January, 1 April or 1 September following your child’s second birthday.
Support for families with children aged three and four
All families in England can obtain 15 hours of free childcare or early education a week, for 38 weeks a year.
You’re entitled to 570 hours of free childcare a year, to use flexibly.
The scheme is available at participating nurseries and nursery classes, playgroups and pre-school, childminders and Sure Start Children’s Centres.
It is available from 1 January, 1 April or 1 September following your child’s third birthday.
These schemes apply to families in England. Similar schemes run in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. For details, click on the relevant links below:
Additional hours for working families with children aged three and four
This scheme entitles working families in England with children aged three and four to an extra 570 hours of free childcare a year to use flexibly, so 1,140 hours in total. It is available at participating childcare settings such as nurseries, childminders and Sure Start Children’s Centres.
You and any partner must each expect to earn (on average) at least £120 a week (equal to 16 hours at the National Minimum or Living Wage). If you or your partner are on maternity, paternity or adoption leave, or you’re unable to work because you are disabled or have caring responsibilities, you could still be eligible. You may also still be eligible if you’re earning less than £120 a week but are under 25, or on an apprentice scheme.
Similar schemes run in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
If you’re a working parent with children under 12 (or under 17 for disabled children), you can open an online account to pay for registered childcare. The Government will top up the money you pay into the account. For every £8 you pay in, the Government will add an extra £2. You can receive up to £2,000 per child, or £4,000 if your child is disabled.
You and any partner must each expect to earn (on average) at least £131 per week (equal to 16 hours at the National Minimum or Living Wage). If you or your partner are on maternity, paternity or adoption leave, or you’re unable to work because you are disabled or have caring responsibilities, you could still be eligible.
You can’t use tax-free childcare at the same time as childcare vouchers, Universal Credit or Tax Credits. You can use it with the 15-hour and 30-hour schemes.
Working Tax Credit for Childcare
If you are entitled to Working Tax Credit, and you and any partner are each working at least 16 hours a week, you can claim back up to 70% of your eligible childcare costs for children under 16 (or under 17 for disabled children). Depending on your income, you could get up to £122.50 a week for one child or £210 for two or more.
How to claim Tax Credits
Universal Credit is being phased in over the next few years. It will replace a number of existing benefits, including Tax Credits. If you are already receiving Tax Credits, you don’t need to do anything now. If you are making a claim for the first time and live in a Universal Credit area, then you can find more details here:
England, Scotland and Wales
You can’t claim Universal Credit, Tax Credits, or tax-free childcare at the same time.
Help to Save is a new government saving scheme to support people on tax credits and Universal Credit build their savings.
You can save between £1 and £50 every calendar month and accounts last for four years from the date you open the account. Within these limits how much you save and when you pay in is up to you. You don't need to pay in each month for the account to remain open, and we will only close the account if you tell us to.
After two years, you'll get a 50% tax-free bonus on your savings. And if you continue saving you could get another 50% tax-free bonus after four years. This means you could receive tax-free bonuses worth up to £1,200, to spend how you like.
You can withdraw money at any time from your account.
Further details can be found on the gov.uk website.
Earn up to £7,500 tax-free by taking a lodger
If you’ve got a spare room and need to regularly top up your income, taking in a lodger is a fast way to earn extra money. The amount you could earn tax-free by letting a spare room via the Government’s Rent a Room scheme is £7,500 a year.
The scheme applies when you rent out a furnished room in your home to a lodger or take short-term guests such as language students. It works whether you live in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales.
If you’re renting out your spare room, you currently have two options to reduce tax, although you can only use one of them, not both.
- If your income is below the £7,500 threshold, you don’t need to do anything, as the tax exemption is automatic.
- If it’s higher, you need to complete a tax return – you then opt into the scheme and pay tax on the remaining amount.
For more on the scheme visit the gov.uk website.
Finding a lodger
If you want to let a room on a longer-term basis, try SpareRoom and the room-to-rent section of your local Gumtree site. Both are free to list on, although there are optional upgrades such as promoted adverts. Alternatively, try your staff noticeboard at work.
Another option is MondaytoFriday, a site geared towards part-time renters looking for weekday-only places, so you get your space back at weekends.
If you are new to renting out your room, make sure you are clear with your tenant about what is expected by both parties. For example, establish whether they can have guests and when they can use the bathroom.
There is no doubt that for many, making income meet outgoings is getting increasingly difficult.
With well-publicised above-inflation increases in basics such as rent and utilities, it is even more important to make savings where you can.
Thousands of us are still paying too much for our goods and services. The good news is that there are some great deals to be had. The RCN’s RCNXtra scheme can help with money-saving ideas.