In these uncertain times, many of us are looking for ways to be more careful with our money.
We recently recommended 5 pieces of advice that can help tighten the purse strings. While cutting costs is an important initial part of saving money, budgeting is crucial for longer-term planning.
In this guide, we round up tips for trying to stick to a budget. We’ve put together these suggestions with the current situation in mind, but the advice can be used whenever - and for whatever reason - you want or need to save money.
One of the most common easy budgeting tips is meal planning. It may seem basic, but food is something so many of us overspend on.
Planning your meals in advance for the week ahead is a great way of managing your money and making sure you stay within your agreed food budget.
Simply writing down what you will eat and when, can help you understand the food you already have, and can therefore prevent excessive - and expensive - top-up shops.
Staying aware of the food in your kitchen will also help you reduce food waste. Meal planning prevents you accidentally letting the food you bought go out of date and into the bin. So, you’re not only saving money but you’re helping to save the planet at the same time.
Not a cook? Don’t worry. Meal planning is still useful when eating pre-prepared food or even eating out. Although cooking from scratch - particularly in batches - can help you maximise your food budget, it’s important to be realistic with your cooking abilities and your time. If you can afford to treat yourself to a takeaway once in a while, factor this into your budget and meal plan so that you don’t buy more food than you will eat.
Due to the pandemic, online food shopping in the UK has reached record highs and demand is continuing to grow, according to grocery sales and market share data.
Online shopping has the obvious benefit of being able to be done from your own home - a lifeline for those who are shielding or in isolation, and a convenient option for those who prefer not to visit supermarkets.
But another benefit that people don’t often think about is how online shopping can help you stick to a tight budget.
You can browse the website for the cheapest option at your own pace. And you can remove items from your basket if you notice the cost is getting too high. You can even compare costs between different supermarkets. To find out which supermarkets have the best deals on your favourite items, visit LatestDeals.co.uk’s food and drink price checker.
Although online shopping can be done anywhere and at any time, it’s a good idea to do it on a full stomach. This will help avoid you buying unnecessary extras.
If you’re concerned about spending too much money, you may want to only spend from your main current account and avoid making purchases on your credit card.
Of course, there are reasons why you may want to use a credit card, but when you’re trying to save money, you need to consider anything you place on a credit card as within your budget.
If this is a concern, you could leave your credit card at home to avoid temptation when out shopping. You could even place it somewhere out-of-reach at home and remove the card from any online shopping accounts to remind you to use it with caution when buying online.
Carrying out your banking online can also be useful when tracking your spending.
This is because you can easily check your bank balance and your transactions at any point. There’s no need to wait for a bank statement in the post to see the money you have going out or coming in.
Many online bank accounts are constantly adding features that can help with budgeting, so take advantage of these and see what tools work for you.
Using online banking also helps keep you in control when your bank’s branch is shut or you’re unable to get there. Getting an account set up means you can access your finances 24/7 - even in the event of a local (or national) lockdown.
There are some great budgeting apps available to download on smartphones which can help give you a real grasp on how much money you’re spending - and what you’re spending it on too.
These apps can be used to help you plan out all your monthly expenses. Some popular free options that work on both iOS and Android include Money Dashboard, Bean and Emma.
Once you’ve planned out your monthly expenses, you can then put an amount of money aside for set purposes using your online banking. All from the palm of your hand.
One thing we often forget to budget for is social events or birthday celebrations. Although spending money at parties may seem hard to foresee at the moment, it’s worth considering these when budgeting for an ‘emergency fund’.
We may think of unforeseen expenses as negatives such as boilers breaking down or your car needing a new part, but they can come in the form of celebrations such as attending a friend’s baby shower, or a congratulations gift for a family member’s engagement.
It’s important to only buy gifts that you can afford but if social celebrations are important to you, you need consider this when budgeting. Don’t forget to factor in any expensive times of year, such as Christmas too.
Of course, you should always protect some savings for true emergencies but putting some money aside for socialising in a virtual pot can help you tackle things when any unplanned events creep up.
One of the most important things to do when trying to budget is to make sure that your budget is achievable in the first place. Setting unrealistic targets will only cause your plan to fall apart, which is demotivating and can lead to you abandoning your savings goals altogether.
Take some time to work out how much you’re spending and identify where you can make savings before you commit yourself to a budget. Sticking to a new spending plan can be hard so be prepared for some challenges ahead, but always keep your goals realistic.