Every January, I write a few columns about sorting out your finances, tackling debts and making resolutions. This year, I decided to put my money where my mouth is by tackling my huge backlog of things to do on New Years’ Day.
To say it was frustrating was an understatement. So I’ve put together a few suggestions on how you can tackle your life laundry without having a meltdown.
Do your finances in little chunks
Most people hate going through the bills or looking at what they’ve spent. Dealing with your finances can be a real endurance test – especially if you’ve let things go for a while. So tackle things a little bit at a time.
Go through each bank account, credit card, store card and phone bill one at a time (astoundingly, you might be paying for other services on your phone bill and not know it). Start by noting down your direct debits and standing orders on each account then walk away. Later, go back through your statements a few looking for payments you don’t recognise. These monthly and annual subscriptions can be cancelled and claimed back if you didn’t authorise them. But do things at your own pace.
Divide your ‘to do’ list in to separate sections
Sometimes the act of making a list can help your mind make sense of the tasks ahead of you. There are loads of free online tools you can use to do this. Or you can just go old school and write ‘em out on paper.
I’ve divided my own lists in to an ‘urgent’ list, followed by; money and finance, home and bills, complaints I need to make, friends and family things, health and welfare and things I need to follow up. Limit the number of lists – the more you have, the more likely you are to forget to follow them up (or lose them). Don’t forget – nothing beats putting a big tick next to a task that you’ve completed.
Make those complaints
Speaking of complaints, I’ve been working through my own list of businesses I need to tackle. I never mention what I do for a living when I contact a business or organisation, just to see how they react. Needless to say, after two hours I was in a spectacular bad mood and I have enough material for another ten columns. So here’s what I’d recommend to minimise a bad experience.
Take a few minutes to write down in your own words what you’re unhappy with – and what you want to sort things out. This will help you focus on the key issues and not get distracted. You can use Resolver to do this for free or call up the company and use your notes as a script. However, many businesses are making it difficult to email them your complaint these days, so if you manage to speak to a person, tell them you want to make a formal complaint and ask them what the process is. Astoundingly, you might have to write a letter! If this is the case, post them your notes, but make sure you shop them to your MP, the regulator or Trading Standards.
If you can think of it, there’s an app for it. When it comes to money and finance, there are loads of Open Banking apps you can use to stay on top of your finances, keep an eye on your spending and even save cash and win rewards. Look for the free, simple options, the more complex, the less likely you are to stick with it. Why not ask friends and family for recommendations?
Don’t worry about failing
I never manage to achieve all the things on my resolution list, so don’t worry about failing. Just focus on a few key things you need that will make you happier or less worried. If you get any of the rest, it’s a bonus. And allow yourself a reward when you achieve your goals too. You deserve it.
Martyn James is a leading consumer rights campaigner, TV and radio broadcaster and journalist.