January feels like the longest month ever, doesn’t it? Well that’s because it is. If you’re paid monthly, then chances are you got your wages a little earlier in December.

This tradition is great for helping you fund Christmas, but it means that the wait to payday can be a week to ten days longer than usual. Add to that terrible weather, the nightmare of overspending and massive energy bills and it’s all a bit of an endurance test.

Well congratulations, you made it through to the end of the month! If you’re celebrating your first wage packet of 2024, you might be tempted to go on a bit of a spending splurge. You’re not alone. But if you’re thinking about treating yourself, here’s my guide to what to watch out for – because canny retailers and sneaky scammers lie in wait…

Holidays

This is one of the peak times of the year for holiday bookings, which means that you might not get much of a bargain. If you do want to book a trip, then don’t forget to do a bit of research before committing.

When comparing flights, I’d add on around £65 each way if you’re looking at a budget airline to cover additional charges for seat reservations and hold and bag luggage. When looking at accommodation options, cross reference the location with a map of the main tourist areas, so you know your close to where the action is – or the beach (there’s a bit of fakery going on online). Make sure you only pay with a debit or credit card, or an e-payments system like PayPal (not the friend and family option). These are the only ways to pay that can potentially be recalled.

Shopping scams

Retailers know you’re itching to spend some cash, so watch out for tempting ‘sale’ items or promotional offers. If you spend five minutes checking out some of the free price tracker websites and the manufacturers’ own recommended retail price (RRP) you’ll have a clearer idea of whether you’re getting a bargain or not. Watch out for scammers too. I’m hearing loads of horror stories about people being conned on sites like Facebook marketplace. Research by TSB recently found that a third of all listings on the site were scams.

Vouchers and credit

Why dip in to your wages if you don’t have to? Every year, millions of pounds vanish in to the ether in our bags, wallets, purses as vouchers, credit notes and ‘experience’ gifts expire. Dig them all out and spend them now! Don’t forget to check your emails as well to see if there are any offers you’ve forgotten about, like credits for events that were cancelled, or gifts that have slipped your mind.  Even if you don’t want anything available at the shop in question, you could buy something to sell it on – or gift it to someone else. You may even be able to trade the voucher for a discount.

Spend smart

Increasingly, your bank or credit card might offer cashback if you spend using their plastic. Others give you discounts and offers with retailers, restaurants and leisure companies. You can also use a range of free apps to save and earn rewards too. I use Hyperjar which allows you to save money in various ‘virtual jars’ for things like the supermarket shop or fun stuff, while earning cashback too. And if you want to save some cash, interest rates are at the highest level in a decade, so make the most of them!

A final word of warning

Getting to the first payday of the year can be a bit like running a marathon. You’re so focused on getting there, you forget about what happens next. Revisit your budget (or make one) and check for things you might have forgotten, like buy now, pay later credit deals you’ve taken out. Bear in mind it’s still winter and the heating will be more expensive for another few months. Leave yourself a float of cash to cover any unexpected bills too.

Martyn James is a leading consumer rights campaigner, TV and radio broadcaster and journalist.

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