Tips for managing the family finances this January

Helen Bloomfield and Sanda Hicklin from money advice team at citizen advice, Ipswich

Helen Bloomfield and Sanda Hicklin from money advice team at citizen advice, Ipswich

January can be a battle as families struggle to balance the finances - juggling the debts of Christmas with rising heating bills and other expenses.

Citizens Advice Ipswich say there is an upsurge in clients seeking debt advice each new year, helping more than 50 families a month to review their outgoings and put together a revised budget more inline with their incomings.

This week James Marston went to meet the team and hear their words of advice.

Here money advice team managere Helen Bloomfield shares her top tips for successfully managing your family finances.

Start saving for Christmas now

Spread the cost of expensive gifts and food purchases to ease the burden come December.

Create your own budget

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There are lots of online tools and apps to help you.

Make a shopping list and plan your meals

Planning meals saves waste and it means you don’t buy things you don’t need. Think about the supermarket offers you see, are you actually going to use what you buy just because it is on offer?

Check for deals and cash back offers

Cash back deals can effectively give you money for nothing if you are going to buy it anyway, but watch our for advertising ploys that may convince you to spend more than you intended.

Keep a note of contract expiry dates

Always renegotiate when it comes to contract renewal whether it be for your mobile phone of television subscription, there could be a better deal out there inlcuding SIM only deals.

Save energy

Simple steps like turning down the heating by one degree and switching off the lights when you are not in the room as well as making sure you have the right insulation. can help save a considerable sum over the course of a year.

Use online vouchers

You don’t have to give up meals out, cinema visits and day trips completely, look out for 2-4-1 vouchers and other deals to enjoy the odd treat without going over budget.

Describing their busy workload, Helen said: “We do see more and more people in January and February, largely because people have maxed out in November and December for the Christmas season.

“There is a great deal of pressure to have a lovely Christmas and people spend regardless of the cost without always thinking ahead.”

Mother-of-two Helen, who manages a small team of advisors offering advice on debt, budgeting and income maximisation, has worked at Citizen’s Advice in Ipswich’s Tower Street since May 2015.

She added: “We are not here to judge people. We are her3 to help people and give them the advice they need to change their ways and avoid a similar situation the following year.

“We work closely with our general citizens’ advice team and we are aware that a number of clients who come to see us will have a range of issues. Quite often debt issues are part of relationship breakdown or other issues such as not getting the right benefits or mental health issues.”

Offering face-to-face advice on an appointment basis, clients begin the process by meeting with money advice team administrator Sanda Hicklin.

Sanda said: “Clients come to our offices and are usually seen by the general advice team who assess them and their needs.

“When referred to us the main objective is to have a full over view of the clients outgoings and incomings. A lot of our clients are quite vulnerable people and aren’t always sure of the figures. A lot of people are scared and anxious.

“My job is to collate the information so the advisor can deliver the right advice and so that the advisor is properly prepared and so the appointment runs smoothly. We ask people to bring in as much information as they can in order to help them effectively.”

With around 40 to 50 clients a month presenting with debt issues, and more at this time of year, Helen said her team begins by creating a budget for the client to work towards.

She added: “Budgeting is an important tool and lots of people just don’t know how to budget money. We also look at income maximisation, for example perhaps a client isn’t getting a benefit they might be entitled to.

“A lot of clients don’t always realise what they are spending on but creating a budget paints a picture for the money advisor to work with when it comes to discussing debt options such as debt relief, an individual voluntary arrangement (IVA) or debt management plan.”

Sanda said: “The idea of creating a budget is to empower clients to deal with the problems themselves. We also signpost clients to other agencies where appropriate.

“A lot of people avoid coming to see us because they might feel ashamed about their debt but we aren’t interested in how the situation arose, we want to help and by coming to us for advice they have done the right thing.

“We have to be quite focused as we want to help people find their own solutions and give them the tools they need.”

Helen said clients often have avoided dealing with their debt issues.

She said: “When something happens there is a tendency for people to bury their heads in the sand until they reach a crisis point.

“We would rather people don’t wait until then and come to us as soon as they can and not wait until the bailiffs are at the door.

“Helen added: “We don’t want to tell people how to live their lives but it isn’t always easy for many people to manage money and small changes can make a big difference. Asking for help is the first step.”

For more information visit their website or call the AdviceLine on 0300 330 1151.

For some more money saving tips. see Sheena Grant’s Thrifty Living column