In association with the Money Advice Service
Bringing up two children, mainly on my own, the first one in tow when I was just 17, hasn’t always been easy financially.
Over the years I’ve accumulated debts, worried about them, tried to ignore them, faced up to them, paid them off, eaten 9p noodles for dinner regularly and switched jobs so many times that I found myself with seven separate pension pots.
Let’s call it a journey. Things always sound sexier when you call them a journey don’t they?
My point is that over the years I’ve been poor and I’ve been less poor, but I’ve learnt lessons. Some of them big ones, some not so big. One of the most important financial lessons I’ve learnt is that the very worse thing you can do is to bury your head in the sand and pretend that you don’t need to think about finances.
Spoiler: YOU DO.
The good news though is that there is a lot of support and information out there, and once you start learning more about the financial matters that impact you and your family you can quickly feel much more in control – it can actually feel very empowering and is great for your mental health too.
This week – 12-18 November – is Talk Money Week, a new public awareness week from the Money Advice Service to help encourage people to have more open conversations about money. With this in mind, and to show you that money doesn’t need to be scary, I’ve put together a list of nine ideas for parents (and non-parents) that could save you money either right now this very second, or for years to come. All of these would make great starting points for discussions about money with family and friends.
Face up to your debt
If you’re struggling with debt at the moment chances are you’re doing your best to ignore the FACTS of the situation. When I was in debt in my mid-twenties, post single parent degree, it’s exactly what I did for a good couple of years and it is a guaranteed way to make yourself feel terrible. Not only that, it doesn’t do you any favours financially as interest just racks up and people get cross. It turns out that banks and credit card companies aren’t keen on being ignored.
If I could offer just one piece of advice it would be to take a deep breath, get all those letters out of the back of the drawer, and start making a plan for how you’re going to tackle it. You will find that if you are honest and communicative most lenders will want to help come to a manageable arrangement with you – far better for them to have you paying them back five pounds a month than nothing at all.
The Money Advice Service has loads of practical advice here on how to start tackling debt. I promise you won’t regret it. Do not just hold a book over your head and pretend the bills aren’t all falling down around you. (Definitely what this guy is doing.)
Shop around for discounts
If you ever buy takeaway pizza online without using a discount code then WHAT IS EVEN WRONG WITH YOU? There are discounts, vouchers and online codes available for so many things nowadays that if you aren’t at least having a quick Google then you’re really missing a trick. Try VoucherCodes, Hot UK Deals and Pouch for a start.
Also look out for offers from supermarkets, particularly ‘first shop’ offers. I recently used Sainsbury’s online shopping for the first time and got £18 off a £60 order. Most supermarkets have similar deals so even if you just go through and use them all once before settling on a favourite you could save a good chunk of your grocery budget.
Get a Help To Buy ISA
If you’re saving for your first family home then a Help To Buy ISA is a no-brainer as the government match whatever you save with a 25% bonus. Save £12,000 for example and you’ll get an extra £3,000. £3,000 of free money! I did it when I bought my house last year and it was super simple – I just did it through my own bank and could transfer money from my current account through my normal banking app.
Find out more here.
Buy discount gift vouchers
Sometimes if Belle gets a gift voucher for a birthday that she doesn’t want I will buy it from her for cash. If I’m feeling generous I might offer full price but if I don’t really want it either, (who really needs to buy anything in Accessorize?) then I will offer a percentage – £8 for a £10 voucher maybe.
Zeek is just like this, only you aren’t restricted just to buying Belle’s vouchers, you can buy them from thousands of people and they don’t just do Accessorize, you can use them for meals out, supermarket shops, all sorts. You can also save an extra £5 the first time you buy anything by using my discount code – 2ZGBE9WY.
Shop second hand
We complain about the price of things like school uniform, toys, revision guides and other school supplies, but often you can save a lot of money by buying second hand through sites like Gumtree, Facebook Marketplace or eBay. Even it’s just a few pounds here and there it soon adds up.
Make extra money by using the same sites to sell unwanted items around the house. The average household has loads of unused stuff hanging around, and you could even get kids involved by offering them a cut of the profits if they contribute some of their unwanted items.
Start a Junior ISA
The Junior ISA took over from the Child Trust Fund, (which I missed out on by giving birth to Belle about 10 days too early, not that I’m bitter), and it means that you can put money away long term for your children without paying any tax on your interest as you would in a regular savings account.
You might not think you have enough spare cash to make saving worthwhile but using the Money Advice Service savings calculator I worked out that based on an interest rate of just 3%, which you can get easily on a Junior ISA at the moment, you could save £5,000 over 18 years, just from saving £19 a month. That’s nothing is it?
Get cashback on purchases
If you’ve not signed up to Quidco then just go and do it now. The average Quidco user earns over £300 a year, just by getting cashback on purchases or services that they would be using anyway. I’ve been put off in the past because I’ve been worried I’ll forget to go via Quidco for my shopping, but they now offer the option to register a card in advance, so that you can earn cashback when you use it in stores.
Think about your pension
I absolutely cannot stress enough how important it is to start saving for retirement as early as you possibly can. When I did a pension review recently, to get those seven separate pension pots in order, the bulk of my fund came from a single pension that I had at my graduate job. I was only there for a couple of years and I didn’t pay in masses, but it was nearly 20 years ago now, which means LOTS OF COMPOUND INTEREST.
Paying into a work scheme gives you the benefit of additional contributions from your employer but even if you’re currently at home with the kids you can still get on the pension train by setting up a simple stakeholder pension. I did this when I was on maternity leave with Belle and only paid in £40 a month to start with, but every penny really does count.
Earlier in the year I wrote this post all about a service that can help you review your pensions and potentially transfer them into one pot, but that doesn’t cost you anything if it turns out that switching won’t earn you more money. You can also get more information on how to track down work pensions or get a forecast on the value of your state pension here.
Stop comparing yourself to others
As a parent it’s all too easy to find yourself on Facebook, looking at pictures of friends with kids on Mark Warner holidays or ice skating with Father Christmas or whatever. But the truth is that you honestly don’t need to spend much money, if any, to show a child a good time. Have a think now about the things you loved to do when you were little or the things that your kids will do now if left to their own devices.
What did you come up with? I loved recording radio shows, playing in my bedroom with the Sylvanian Families, setting up an imaginary Estate Agents – normal stuff. (Estate Agents definitely normal.) Kids like just being left with a box of Lego and a bag of crisps – they don’t need expensive outings to farm parks and illuminated forests. You’re not a better parent just because you pick your own pumpkin from a magical pumpkin patch and drink expensive and elaborate looking shop-bought hot chocolates afterwards.
So those are my starting points for you. What would you say are the money related topics in your family that could do with discussion? Do you have any tips to add? Leave a comment and let me know!
Find out more about Talk Money Week.
*Belle will absolutely cringe in horror if she ever reads this and sees I have actually written the word KERCHING.