We’re all feeling stretched when it comes to paying the bills and putting food on the table as the cost of living continues to rise. That’s why we asked Dawn Baker from Home Start Birmingham, a charity that helps families in crisis, to share some of her top money-saving tips with us.
Dawn has helped hundreds of families get on top of their finances over the years and has loads of innovative ideas on making your money go further – and how to get help if you need it. She has advice on reducing your household bills, budgeting for big events, debt management, cost-effective supermarket shopping and creating healthy money habits with your kids.
“We’ve seen an increase in families that are finding it hard to manage,” said Dawn, who is a mum herself. Home Start offers support to families with young children whereby volunteers go into people’s homes to help with emotional and financial difficulties.
She added: “Food and bills seem to be the biggest worry at the moment. And this impacts on their mental health. Don’t go without, there is help there if you need it. If you have debts, do open the letters. We have so many people who say if I don’t look at them, they don’t exist. They do exist and they won’t get easier, they will get worse. Do face up to them, don’t bury them, they won’t disappear.
“The best advice is to live to your means and not try to live to what others do. If you can’t afford something, be honest and say it. There are a lot of families struggling with debt but there are a lot of organisations around that can help.”
How to manage debts, b enefits and loans
1. Talk to someone who can help or use a webchat. There are lots of organisations that can help, such as National Debtline, Money Advice, Step Change. They can set up debt management plans, help you plan a realistic budget and look at your priority debts
2. Avoid private debt-management companies that may charge a fee. Instead look for not-for-profit organisations because they are free and don’t charge you to set up plans or negotiate with creditors
3. There’s a government scheme called Breathing Space, which offers up to 60 days to put things in place for debts. It’s basically a debt respite scheme that allows people time to get their debts in order
4. Talk to Homestart Birmingham. It’s free and always led by you. You choose what your goals are and the service you want
5. Check you’re on the right benefits by looking on websites like Turn to Us (links to all the websites are further down the article)
6. Think carefully about taking out budgeting loans. It’s very easy to think I need this now and this might help but what loans do is reduce your income longer term. If you’re struggling now, you’re going to struggle even more if you are paying back a loan
How to save on food shopping
7. Food prices have risen enormously. Plan your meals for the week and only buy the items you need. Always write a shopping list
8. Food Clubs are organisations that support families on low incomes. You pay a weekly fee of £3 to £4 then you can get around £15 to £20 worth of food for that week. It’s a better option for many than using food banks as it gives you choice and it includes fresh fruit and veg. Visit Birmingham Forward Steps to find out more. There’s one in every district in Birmingham.
9. Look out for Company shops where you can join a membership if you are on benefits or work for the NHS and they offer vastly reduced food prices
10. Prices in different supermarkets can vary vastly so use comparison apps and websites like Trolley to compare the brands in different stores to give you the prices. Try a budget supermarket, like Aldi or Lidl
11. Check a store’s website for their deals before going in to do your shopping so you can calculate whether the offers are actually good value or not. Sometimes things are not always what they seem.
12. Consider whether you are actually going to use two packs on BOGOF deals – if you end up throwing one away then you’ve spent more money than you needed to
13. Use loyalty cards. Some supermarkets give a cheaper price with loyalty cards. Link your loyalty card to your account online too as this gets you points too.
14. Take a calculator to see how much you’re spending, or use a mobile phone app to scan the items as you go along
15. Get good bases for meals – potatoes, rice, pasta – and buy frozen veg sometimes to avoid wastage
16. Look at websites that give ideas for meals on a budget
17. Cook meals that will give you enough for two days – cottage pie, spaghetti bolognese and casseroles – and throw together items that you have leftover, you’ll be surprised what you come up with
Watch our live chat with Dawn Baker on the Brummie Mummies Facebook page here
How to save money on energy bills
18. Reduce the temperature of your washing and make sure your loads are always full. Go for a quick wash if items aren’t heavily soiled
19. Air dry your washing outside rather than using a tumble dryer
20. Unplug your TV, laptops and phone chargers – don’t leave things on standby
21. Change your bulbs to light-saving bulbs
22. If you’re really struggling and are on a prepayment meter, you can contact your energy company and they can put a prepayment on. It will come off future top-ups but if there’s an immediate need, they can do that
23. There are fuel vouchers through National Debtline, or Citizen Advice Bureau for people who are really desperate
24. Just fill your kettle for the amount of water you need
25. If you have a dishwasher, make sure it’s fully filled every time
26. Turn radiators or thermostats down one degree
27. Council tax rebate was to support with energy bills and if you can be not tempted to use that for other items that should help towards those energy bills it can help because things are going to get harder
How to save money on phone, broadband and school uniform
28. Compare providers, there’s a lot out there and everyone is after your custom. They can always get you a better deal when you speak to them, especially if they think you are going to move elsewhere.
29. Always check you are being given the best renewal deal, especially for home insurance, phone and broadband, gas and electric bills
30. Once you’re out of contract, look at a SIM-only deal for your phone. This can reduce your monthly bills massively whilst having quite big data deals and mostly unlimited text and phone calls
31. Look at linking your broadband to other household services, such as phone or TV, to get good deals
32. For school uniform, look for supermarket brands, they do really good deals coming up to the school year. If you’re struggling, speak to the school in June or July because there are grants available that are income-dependent
How to get the best deals on bank accounts, credit cards and savings
33. Check whether you’re paying a fee on your bank account and whether the benefits of that fee are still relevant for you
34. Credit cards can be useful so long as you are able to be strict with yourself not to overspend and you always pay it off in full. But be careful your provider doesn’t increase your spending limit, which can tempt you to spend more than you can afford. Contact your credit card provider to say you want it kept at a certain limit
35. Transferring a credit card balance can give you zero interest on some. Check it all out first, there’s a lot of jargon used. Seek advice if you’re not sure
36. When it comes to saving for your retirement, I don’t think you can do that too early. Employers have to provide and pay into a pension once you meet a certain threshold so it’s a win-win situation as employers are paying in money we wouldn’t otherwise have
37. Get some advice on pensions. Search online, there are lots of organisations to help you save for your future
How to budget for big events
38. Think about your budget. Set what you can afford to spend. Most things we can plan for – school proms, weddings, birthdays, Christmas – be realistic about what you can afford. Don’t forget to add in all the extra little bits like decorations
39. Don’t be swayed to try to match what other people are spending. It’s about the event, not the cost of the dress or gift
40. Talk to your family about not expecting lots at birthdays and Christmas. It’s a difficult time for everyone and everyone should understand that
41. If you’re looking at parties, think about what you really want and what’s going to make you happy. What you don’t is to be paying for it over the next six to 12 months
42. Consider having a smaller Christmas and then saving for the next one, knowing that it will be better because you’ve been able to put a bit away for it
43. It’s not always possible to save money but even if you can just save £5 a week that’s £260 a year. That helps when things break, in the run-up to Christmas and birthdays. It is good if we can save if at all possible.
How to talk to children about healthy money habits
44. It’s important for children to understand the value of money and how to budget. It can be done really simply. Talk to them about having their own pocket money to buy things, spend during holidays and for buying presents for other people. It doesn’t stop you from treating children it just helps them to learn that money has a value and they have choices too
45. Teaching children about money is not just benefiting them, it’s potentially benefiting their children too. It sets them up for life and has long term benefits for generations to come if the right information is passed on
Organisations that can help with debts and finances
There are lots of organisations that can help with debts, budgeting and advice. Here are some that Dawn recommends:
- National Debtline – lots of really useful factsheets. You can also call the freephone helpline on 0808 808 4000
- StepChange – a debt charity offering expert debt advice and fee-free debt management to help you tackle your debts
- The Money Advice Service – free, impartial advice service, set up by the government
- Breathing Space – temporary protection from your creditors while you get debt advice and make a plan (government led)
- Homestart Birmingham – a charity that offers short-term intervention to families in crisis
- Turn to Us – a charity helping people access to welfare benefits, charitable grants and support services
- Energy Saving Trust – offers ideas on reducing the cost of energy in your home
- Birmingham Forward Steps – a health and wellbeing service for all pre-school children that offers Food Clubs across the city
- Company Shop – a social enterprise offering surplus stock at heavily discounted prices
- Trolley – a website to compare supermarket prices
- Citizens Advice Bureau – an independent organisation offering advice on debt, consumer, housing and other issues
Home Start Birmingham
There are six Home Starts across Birmingham. Home Start offers budgeting workshops for families, helping them to understand percentage and fraction discounts, looking at the different benefits and downfalls of paying cash, using cards and standing orders and direct debits. Volunteers can visit families at home or signpost them to other organisations for support. Find out more here
* Home-Start is looking for around 120 volunteers to support its services across Birmingham. If you’d like to help, find out more and get in touch here