I’ve just had my hours cut at work. I’d like to take on a second job, but there’s nothing around. It sounds ridiculous to talk about Christmas now, but I’m already worrying! I usually start buying the kids a few presents really early to spread the cost – but that’s going to be impossible this year. How can I make less go further, without going into debt?
I’m sorry to hear about the cut in your hours, and what it means for you.
It sounds like you’re normally very organised, and I’m sure this will stand you in good stead.
There are steps you can take to avoid your bills from building up.
- Look at ways to boost your income.
A fall in income may mean you’re eligible for benefits, especially if you’re a parent or carer. The Turn 2 Us benefits checker is very useful.
- Check if you can make savings on your bills.
An important step towards getting control of your finances is finding out what you have coming in and going out each month. Use our budgeting tool at www.citizensadvice.org.uk to help you work this out.
The results will:
- show you what you have left each month to settle any debts, or to set aside
- give you advice on where you could cut costs
One way to stretch household finances is to shop around for the best deals on your mobile phone and broadband (depending on the details of your price plan), and on utilities, such as electricity. For example, you may be able to switch to a cheaper gas or electricity deal. Citizens Advice Carlisle & Eden can help with this – please contact us and ask for an appointment with our Energy Adviser.
- Look at how much money you have coming in and compare it to your essential spending.
Essential spending includes priority bills such as your rent or mortgage and council tax, and should be paid first as there can be serious consequences for missing payments.
Clear rent arrears
It’s more important to deal with rent arrears than other spending debts like credit cards, as you could lose your home.
You’ll need to know how much you can offer to pay off to clear the arrears.
Manage mortgage payments
You need to talk to your mortgage lender straight away if you’re struggling to pay your mortgage.
Don’t put this off. It’s important to do it as soon as possible to stop your lender beginning court action against you.
If you’ve already received court papers, you need to get immediate help and advice. Contact your local Citizens Advice and they will help you.
Reduce your regular mortgage payments
If you’re not in arrears but are worried about your regular mortgage payments you might be able to temporarily reduce your monthly payments, or even switch to a better deal.
Sort out your Council Tax
Ask your council to spread your Council Tax over 12 months instead of the usual 10 if you’re starting to struggle with the payments. This will reduce the amount you pay each month. If you’re already in arrears, you need to act quickly.
Check if you should get a discount
You can reduce your overall bill by getting a discount on your Council Tax if you:
- live on your own
- live only with someone who’s under 17 or a full-time student
- live with someone with mental health problems
- live with someone who is severely disabled
- earn below a certain amount of money – this depends on where you live.
Check your Council Tax band is right
Your bill might be higher than it should be if your property is in the wrong Council Tax band. Follow the steps on the MoneySavingExpert website to check. If the band is changed and your bill is reduced, you’ll also get back the money you’ve overpaid since you moved in.
Deal with gas, electric or water bills
If you’ve got a gas or electric bill you can’t pay, you should contact your supplier to help you sort out a payment plan that works for you. They must help you do this and you can get help from your local Citizens Advice if they don’t. There may also be grants available to help with energy bills.
Most water companies have hardship schemes or other ways to help customers who talk to them about problems. If you can pay now but want to reduce your future bills, check how you could pay less. Installing a water meter can also sometimes bring savings.
It’s worth checking your insurances and subscriptions – cancel any you don’t need and shop around for the others. It’s normally cheaper if you don’t leave it until just before the renewal date.
If your children are school age there may be help available with uniforms, technology and free school meals. Our website has more details.
It’s easy to slip into overdraft, or miss a payment, and it can then become more and more expensive – and stressful – to get on the right track and out of debt. Likewise, think carefully about any ‘buy now pay later’ deals – they’re not always the best option long term.
If you are worried about debt, here at Citizens Advice we have specially trained advisors available to help, so please do get in touch