Time to change?

517151117‘Tis the season to save money, and I have been receiving a steady stream of emails from the great and the good of the financial world explaining how I can save thousands of pounds this year. Suggestions range from the tried-and-tested old favourites like switching energy suppliers and making your own lunches instead of splurging on canteen food, supermarket sandwiches and takeaway coffees, to more adventurous tactics like turning your overdraft into an interest-free loan.

Personal finance expert Jasmine Birtles has written a financial fitness guide for energy switching site goenergyshopping.co.uk and reckons I would save £200 a year switching to a cheaper energy company, and £735.80 a year by bringing my own lunch into work. I know that I can easily spend £3 a day on coffee so I’ll start by taking my coffee to work in a flask. Of course that is not without financial pitfalls of its own. There is a consider risk that I’ll drop the whole lot down my coat (£9 dry-cleaning bill right there), drop my bag, spilling the entire flask incurring a bill of £20 on a handbag, untold millions on new make-up and of course the not inconsiderable cost of replacing my phone… and I could tip the lot all over the little old lady sitting next to me on the bus, in which case I will have to sell Katy to pay for her plastic surgery and compensation. Not to mention hurt feelings.

Of course making your own sandwiches saves you peanuts when compared to giving up your favourite vice. Giving up the booze and fags is always a classic way to dent the traditional January overdraft and I’m sure I could save at least £50 a month by halving my takeaway/Chardonnay/pizza with the girls habit, but the question is – would life be worth living?

Apparently it is – Paul, one of our local neighbourhood estate agents is saving himself a mint AND enjoying playing with a brilliant new toy, simply by switching from his usual two packs a day to e-cigarettes. He tells me that before New Year he was sending £270 a month up in smoke, now he spends just £7 a week on e-cigarette oil. “I’m saving an absolute fortune,” he told me – his smug smile wreathed in a tiny cloud of peppermint-scented smoke. The best bit is he can smoke from the comfort of his desk now, he doesn’t have to hang around street corners like a naughty schoolboy, which this week – when it has rained solidly for three days – is not to be sniffed at.

One of the most inventive ideas for shrinking those dreaded January debts comes from Andrew Hagger of moneycomms.co.uk, who suggests converting your overdraft into a free loan by putting it all on to a 0% rate credit card. Now this is not for the faint-hearted or feather-brained – you have to be incredibly diligent and disciplined to make this work because if you don’t keep up your payments you will soon end up paying interest in the high teens and find yourself in a worse financial pickle than ever. But if you think you can handle it, you could, in theory, take out an MBNA Platinum Credit Card and use it to transfer £1,000 on 0% interest into your bank account for two years. So long as you kept up the monthly payments of £42.48 for two years you could end up clearing a £1,000 overdraft interest free – saving a potential £365 a year. All you’d pay is a £22 money transfer fee to move the money from the credit card into your bank account.

I think I’ll start more modestly by maxing out on vouchers and discounts. I’ve been kicking myself all year for not getting myself an NUS card while I was studying for my teaching degree – I didn’t bother applying for one because when I had one the first time round it only seemed to work on things like Vidal Sassoon haircuts, train tickets round Europe, and the kind of Mexican restaurants where the bargirls wear shot glasses as weapons, all of which, sadly, I seem to have outgrown.

But – a little bird tells me that part-time students are also eligible for an NUS discount card, which means my weekly computer and advanced grammar classes makes me eligible for one! And I can use it in a gazillion places – including the Coop, West End theatres and my favourite pizza restaurant. So if your New Year’s Resolution is to brush up your CV with some more qualifications, find out if you can save money at the same time. Find out more at nus.org.uk.

Posted by Amanda Blinkhorn

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