The M Word, nobody wants to speak about it, yet we can’t live without it. MONEY, yes I’ve said it. Now lets tackle it.
First up, how do you improve your financial fitness? How do you become financially fit? Cork Personal Tax Adviser and Chartered Accountant, Caroline Crowley, outlines a few tips below.
Everyone’s financial dreams are different; own a home, clear all your personal debts, retire early, pay all your families expenses without stress. As dull as it may sound the only place to start is by mapping out a financial plan for your future.
To do this you need to decide your financial objectives and prioritise them. Next review your existing resources and work out what actions you need to take to make your financial objectives come true. There will be emotional benefits come from this. You will feel a sense of peace once you take action to bring your financial affairs in order, and you won’t waste time pointlessly worrying about money in the future. In my experience this bring an enormous sense of wellbeing to individuals that may have kept their head firmly in the sand as regards their finances in the past.
So where do you start?
Start by creating a household budget. Follow my blog here for how to do this. You will find that modest changes in your spending behaviour will make a huge difference.
Identify clearly how your money is spent each month. What percentage is spent on the mortgage, utilities, groceries and savings for your future etc? Once this is done, give yourself a massive pat on the back. Identifying how your money is spent and earned each month, will put you ahead of most people. There is nothing wrong with an old fashioned paper and pen to do this. Personally, I use an App on my phone to track this iXpenseIt
The next step is to identify where savings can be made. Yes this means you have to scrutinise all your spending.
1. Mortgages and Loans
Do you know what mortgage and loan rates are you currently paying? It’s time to find out! Typically once taken out many people accept the rate and forget to review it regularly to ensure they are getting the most competitive deal on the market. If you are on a variable rate mortgage for instance you may wish to go fixed or change to a more competitive lender.
Also check the value of your property to see if it has appreciated considerably since you obtained your mortgage as this could have an impact on the interest rate you are currently being charged. Don’t make excuses, drop your lender or mortgage provider an email or call in to discuss interest rates and make this an annual event. The key message is don’t be complacent; even a small difference in the interest rate you pay can make a huge difference to the cost of your mortgage. Loyalty will get you nowhere, go where the best deal is for you. Read more about this here
2. Utility Bills
Interrogate all expenses, especially utility bills and insurance payments. www.bonkers.ie is always a useful place for benchmarks. Before changing utility providers, give your existing provider a call. Explain to them that you are thinking of changing and see is there a lower tariff they can give to you before you change. It might mean a few phone calls but just as you can’t expect to run a marathon without a little bit of training, becoming financially fit is not something that will happen without effort.
3. Life and health cover
Next up, check your life and health cover – you could be over insured. Also check you are getting the best value. Have your circumstances changed since you took out the policy? Are you a non-smoker now for over 12 months? This could reduce your premiums by a large amount.
4. Grocery Expenses
Cut household expenses by shopping with a pre-written list and avoid any impulse purchases. Anyone with trouble curbing his or her expenditure (you know who you are) should keep a money diary. The basic idea behind a money diary is that you carry a small notebook with you wherever you go and write down details of every cent you spend (exciting I know). After a few weeks however, you will have a precise picture of where your money is going. Keep your shopping lists to compare prices in different stores. Shopping online may be even cheaper for some as it can reduce impulse buys and reduces travel costs to the supermarket. The ultimate goal of this practice is to curb impulsive unnecessary spending.
5. Fuel Costs
Shop around for fuel – stations often run discount campaigns. Also open a fuel discount card and check out the website www.pumps.ie
6. Hidden Costs
Don’t forget to check those hidden costs. How much are you paying on bank charges? Try and avoid exceeding overdraft permission or even using your overdraft facility as surcharges and fees here are very high.
Now you have interrogated your costs it’s time to open a Savings Account to store those extra funds
Put simply savings can avoid future debt. Start saving now for future purchases such as a car upgrade in a few years time. This means you won’t have to get an expensive car loan when you’re ready to buy.
You still aren’t showing me the money, I hear you cry. Well you should consider the following:
7. Review Your Tax Affairs
- Get familiar with your tax credits. Are the tax credits assigned to you and your partner correct? Ensure you have claimed any tax reliefs and allowances you are entitled to now or were entitled to in the past four years. For help in claiming a tax refund, read my article here. Yes there is a look back period of four years, so if you previously forgot to claim a credit or review your taxes in the past four years, now is the time. It may be worthwhile arranging a once off appointment with an accountant or tax adviser for assistance here.
- Did you notify Revenue when you got married? Did you claim the married tax credit? Have you applied to be jointly assessed for tax purposes with your spouse or civil partner?
- Are you claiming tax relief for those private college fees you paid for your children or did you recently undertake a training course?
- Are you paying nursing home expenses for a relative? Or are you employing a carer for an incapacitated person?
- Have you claimed flat rate expenses?
- Could you be reducing your income tax payable by making pension contributions? Regardless on whether you are self-employed or an employee, pensions remain one of the most tax efficient investments you can make. Premiums paid are allowed as an income tax deduction in the calculation of an individuals income tax liability.
- Are you claiming tax relief for medical expenses?
Other tax tips
- Could you rent out a room in your home and earn an extra €14,000 per year tax free? You must file an income tax return to claim this relief.
- Is your employer paying your medical insurance payments on your behalf? Find our how you can claim tax relief for this in my article here.
You can set up an account with Revenue and monitor your tax credits, flat rate expenses and also upload medical expenses, or contact us if you would like assistance here.
The message is to think positively and be proactive with your money and you will be able to build up much greater wealth. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help. Professional help in this area can make a massive difference.
To become financial fit you may wish to obtain personal tax advice. If you are based in Cork you can obtain personal tax advice by booking a call or emailing email@example.com to start your financial fitness regime.