One of the reasons that I can look my readers in the eye and offer advice and guidance is I’ve made every mistake going.

My past is littered with maxed out credit cards, poor financial decisions and lots of denial about my situation. So I know what puts people off about facing down their finances – and I really do understand why you might not want to tackle the reality of your budget.

So rather than write a guide for highly motivated people, here are my realistic tips to help you seize control of your cash for 2023.

Do your finances in little chunks

I hate going through my bills and looking at what I’ve spent. Dealing with your debits 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 (shockingly, 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. It’s important to give yourself lots of breaks when budgeting so it doesn’t get on top of you.

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.

Divide your ‘to do’ list in to separate sections

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 divide my own lists in to ‘urgent’, 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). Nothing beats putting a big tick next to a task that you’ve completed.

Make complaints

Speaking of complaints, I’ve been working through my own list of businesses I need to tackle. Despite being a consumer rights campaigner, I hate making complaints just as much as everyone else. 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. 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. To my intense annoyance, you might have to write a letter (it’s 2023). If this is the case, make sure you shop the business to your MP, the regulator or Trading Standards. Just send them all the same cover letter.

Use apps and free websites

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?

To fail is to be human

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.

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