I must confess, this week, I felt pretty fed up.

It was the council tax bill that did it. I’d been going through the bills for the year ahead and I was updating my spreadsheet so I could see what I had to pay in 2024 and adjust my spending. After a massive water bill increase, the council tax bill was the final straw.

If you’re feeling the same, don’t despair. I’ve written quite a bit about how to get back on top of your finances. Check out my Mirror column on this here. You can also find my guide on what to do if you’re overstretched financially at the end of this article.

However, if like me, you’re fed up with the bills, you might be tempted to do a bit of spring cleaning with your life more generally. April is a great time to turn over a new leaf not only with money, but with health, work and leisure too.

The problem with making plans is it’s easy to get overwhelmed and give up. So speaking as someone who’s made many, many false starts, here’s my guide to making attainable plans that will make you feel better and help make your good intentions come true.

Know what you’re likely to stick with

Sometimes the act of writing things down – or even talking through your plans with a friend – can help you figure out what it is you want to do in the year ahead.

By all means make long lists, download apps and have big plans. Then stop and ask yourself: can you update these lists in less that 15 minutes each week? How much time a day would it take to do everything you want?

Psychologically, failing to succeed with even one aspect of a plan can set many people spiralling down a cycle where they give up on all their good intentions. So start small and make your goals attainable. You can always add more things from your ‘big list’ in to your plans as you make progress.

Divide your lists in to groups

My current ‘to do’ list currently features 156 different tasks. That’s way too much for me to realistically process. So divide up your lists in to separate chunks to make them more manageable. My list breaks down in to; bills, finances, complaints, health and lifestyle, fun stuff and friends and family. You might want to add an ‘urgent’ column too for things that you absolutely have to prioritise.

Tackle what’s annoyed you

Negative emotions aren’t healthy, but if a business has annoyed you, use that to motivate you to find a better deal elsewhere. Have a think about the poor service you’ve experienced over the last year and note down the businesses that you’ve had enough of.

Next up, make yourself a complaint template. All this needs to involve is three things. A one-line overview of the main issue, a summary with around five bullet points setting out the main problems and one line specifying what you want to resolve the matter. Sticking to this template means it’ll take five minutes to draft up a complaint, which you can then email or simply spell out on the phone. How a business deals with your complaint can help you get a decent resolution… or find the determination to go elsewhere.

Don’t shell out for resolutions

If you’re feeling motivated and ready to make some positive life changes, it’s tempting to fork out some cash on the projects you’ve committed to. But resist the urge to spend money until you’ve proved to yourself you can meet a few basic targets.

We waste millions on membership schemes, health plans and life improvements every year because businesses know that we are less inclined to cancel subscriptions – because that mean admitting defeat. So use free, trial versions of apps or contracts first to see if they work for you before committing. Try YouTube exercise videos that don’t require equipment to get you started and check out our podcasts and Instagram posts to get motivated. You can also experiment with some free online recipes before spending lots of cash on a monthly delivery of healthy or exotic food ingredients.

To fail is to be human

As anyone who is avoiding booze or fags, or is trying to live a healthier life will know, there will be setbacks on the road to changing your life for the better. If you fall off the wagon or fail to meet the targets you’ve set for yourself, don’t give up or think you’ve got to start over. Get a cheap wall calendar in the sales and mark off the days you’ve (mostly) achieved your goals along with those you haven’t. You’ll see you’re winning more than you think. And give yourself a break.

Bonus tips!

What to do if you can’t pay the bills

Sometimes when you do the sums, it turns out you don’t have enough cash to pay for all the bills. Don’t despair. This means you need practical, realistic help now.

If you only need a short breather to get back on top of your cash, speak to your bank to see if they can give you a temporary overdraft for a month. If you don’t meet their criteria for credit, explain you’re experiencing financial difficulties. Your bank has an obligation to do what it can to try to help not make the situation worse. They aren’t going to write off everything you’ve spent, but they can give you a break on charges and interest until you’re back on top of things. If your bank or credit provider refuses to help you, or makes the situation worse, make a complaint to the Financial Ombudsman for free.

If you need longer-term help, you meet the definition of financial difficulties. That’s where the free debt charity StepChange can step in. I can’t tell you how amazing StepChange is. They have helped millions of people tackle financial problems that seemed impossible to escape from.

StepChange will ask you for that budget information you’ve already prepared and will set up a tailored plan, working out what you can afford to pay each month. They then contact all your creditors on your behalf. Oh and don’t ever go to a business that charges for this or for things like IVAs or bankruptcy – StepChange is totally free.

Featured in Mirror – Martyn James

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