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Whether in a credit crisis or boom time we can all improve on our finances

The present economic climate has brought with it the recurrence of redundancies and business closures, a correction in the lending market and a realisation that bust follows boom once again. I was affected by the recession of the early 1990s and eventually the company I worked for went bust in 1992 without paying us redundancy etc, so I am very aware of the impact and the corresponding pressure then to find a job. Best wishes to you if you are presently facing such difficulties.

With this background it is perhaps reasonable then to find we have been somewhat cautious and keen to always improve on the value of our purchases and to gain good returns on investments and savings, but, not at the expense of cutting out everything in life. Back in 1992 the internet wasn't there to help, but today there are a lot of resources out there to help you, and these are equally relevant in the good times too.

Household budgeting - Gaining Control

The key to any plan is good data, you can't set actions if you don't have a good knowledge of your income and outgoings. This may seem straight forward, but many people don't have all this to hand i.e. all your monthly bills, your annual costs (insurance), good knowledge of the cost of your groceries per month, car costs, plus what savings you need to make in order to replace the car, fridge, TV etc when they breakdown. This will help if you are simply working through the finances with the family members and planning your savings and expenditure, looking to clear the mortgage early via overpayments or addressing debt problems, or to provide information which will help in your discussion with financial advisors or debt councilors.

Over several years I "developed" a household budgeting spreadsheet and following interaction on the above site I've sent a version to many users there. It seems sensible to make it available here to you my fellow residents. It can look a little daunting at first, but once you take a little time to see how it integrates then you'll recognise how it operates. (This is actually a simplified version over that which I use!).

OpenOffice version of Stuart's Household Budgeting spreadsheet here
Excel version here

After a couple of months the averaging values for groceries and petrol should start to even out to a true figure, although clothing and shoes can take longer as these are usually bought in intervals but have a high value of course. I hope this is as useful to you as it has been for me and others who have used it. One word of warning, it can be quite addictive once you are using this.

Online deals, offers and cashback

The worldwide web provides us today with a great range of resources to help us. I've been active on the Money Saving Expert website forums and this site is excellent for information - I thoroughly recommend you visit it. Whilst the pages can be a bit cluttered, there is a lot to gain from both the articles and the forums at www.moneysavingexpert.com

The web also gives us a much better chance to compare prices so we can get the best value for our hard earned cash. In addition, you can also get cash back for the purchases too via sites like TopCashBack which link to the web site you would buy from anyway, it's just that you get a certain per centage back on the purchase. So, you don't need to spend more than you planned, but you can actually get more money back. Do make sure you clear cookies and then go to the cash back site, login then click through to the site to make your purchase.

If you then add on the voucher deals, you gain from that too. See MyVoucherCodes for example. Also some of these get listed on TopCashBack.

Savings, Investments and Financial Planning

The government's financial regulator site has a lot of good information and guidance booklets etc and it also lists issues that may affect you. See their site here

It goes without saying that you should seek professional advice on financial planning matters and especially in cases of your pension planning and other major issues. The FSA site also has links to sites to help you find financial advisors and to assist people with debt problems,

If you are happy to undertake some planning yourself then you can get good information from various sites such as some of the investment supermarkets like Interactive investor (www.iii.co.uk) and Trustnet (www.trustnet.com). Personally I use both of them and also have just started to take Money Observer magazine to learn more to help me and the family.

I hope this is helpful to you and best wishes in your plans.

Stuart Bond

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