Tips and guidance to get the most out of your money and manage your finances
We can all benefit from learning better ways to manage our money, cut our everyday costs and learn what options are out there for us to maximise our income. The information on this page – provided by Scotland’s Financial Health Service – gives some guidance on issues such as budgeting and understanding tax, along with links to more detailed sources of information.
If you’re finding it difficult to make ends meet, being aware of how much money you have available to spend each month is key to allowing you to budget effectively.
A good first step is to write down all your income – wages after tax, benefits and any other earnings. Then list how much you spend each month on your rent or mortgage, utility bills, TV, internet and mobile, living expenses, travel loan repayments and any other expenses. Then total up your income and outgoings and see how much money you have left. There are some excellent online spreadsheets that you can use to keep track of your monthly spend. This Google Sheets Monthly Budget spreadsheet is free and easy to use.
If you have anything spare, think about saving so you don’t have to borrow should you face any unexpected bills in the future. If you have little or nothing left or would like to have more available to save, try to identify areas where you can save money.
For instance, if you are paying a lot for a both a mobile phone and telephone landline, could you do without one or the other? If you have a car, do you really need it? If you are spending a lot on food in any given month, could there be cheaper alternatives you could buy instead? And if you are paying for things you don’t use or need, can they be cancelled?
Comparison websites offer a useful method for checking whether you can save on regular bills such as energy and insurance. Ofcom provide an approved list of comparison sites to check for better deals on mobile, broadband and TV costs. But it’s important to check any deal is the right one for you, and it’s recommended you use more than one comparison website to check for deals, as they don’t all show every deal and supplier.
You might be able to save money by either switching to a new provider for your broadband, mobile phone, home phone or to a bundle or combination deal and you’ll probably be able to save money on your gas and electricity bills by switching to a new supplier. Tell your current provider you’re thinking of switching to a cheaper deal with another provider and they may offer you a cheaper deal to entice you to stay.
If you don’t want to stay with your current provider, find out if you’ll be charged a fee to leave as you’ll usually be charged if you’re part-way through a fixed-term contract and it might be worthwhile to wait until your current contract’s up before switching provider.
Home Energy Scotland is a Scottish Government programme, managed by the Energy Saving Trust and can provide you with advice on reducing your energy bills and keeping your home warmer. It can also provide advice on saving energy and money, refer eligible customers for financial support from their energy supplier and assess you for energy efficiency schemes which can help make your home cheaper and easier to heat.
Regularly check your bank account statements to keep on top of your money and try to not let yourself go into the red. If possible, set up online banking so you can do this when you want.
If you want to look at your family budget, Citizens Advice has an online calculator to help you prioritise your debts.
Pensions might seem complicated but the basic idea is a simple one. It’s worth finding out more about income in your retirement, because your State Pension – while providing a foundation – may not be enough to live on.
And whatever your age, you’re never too young to start thinking about your pension. It’s best to know sooner rather than later whether you’re paying too much or too little and what you can do to plan for your retirement. There are many organisations that can offer advice and help you find what’s best for you.
You can receive independent financial advice – although independent financial advisers will charge a fee, either directly or in the form of commission paid to the adviser by the pension company, if you buy a personal pension through the adviser. It’s worth bearing in mind that banks, insurance companies and building societies are not independent financial advisers and will often have a financial interest in any decision you make.
Your workplace pension actuary or administrator, personnel manager or trade union officials can also be useful sources of information. However, they are likely to be committed to occupational pension schemes specific to your employer.
A new law means that every employer must automatically enrol workers into a workplace pension scheme by 2018 if they are aged between 22 and pension age, earn more than £10,000 a year and work in the UK. This is called automatic enrolment.
More information on workplace pensions can be found on gov.uk. They also provide a pension tracing service for those that may have lost pensions from previous employment. an offer information and guidance about your pension options and tax implications, although this guidance only applies to ‘defined contribution’ pension pots.
Pension Wise can offer information and guidance about your pension options and tax implications, although this guidance only applies to ‘defined contribution’ pension pots. If you’re close to retirement age, you can book a free appointment with a Pension Wise pensions guidance specialist who will talk through your pension options.
The Pensions Advisory Service can also offer advice if you need to complain about the administration of your personal pension, such as delays in payment of benefits, misquotations or errors in recording contributions. It can also give information and advice on stakeholder pensions and can assist with complaints to the Financial Ombudsman Service. It cannot provide financial advice or advice on individual personal pension schemes, though
If you’re on a low income, you could be eligible for extra benefits. But working out what you’re entitled to can be a tricky business, particularly with recent and forthcoming changes to the benefits system.
But you are not alone. A range of organisations are out there who can advise you on what benefits you may be permitted the claim for. A list of benefits available can be found on www.gov.uk or contact your local authority.
The Scottish Welfare Fund is a national, budget limited, discretionary grant scheme, which provides two types of grants:
The fund is administered locally by all 32 councils in Scotland. To apply for assistance from your council, you must be aged 16 or over, and be on a low income. Whilst statutory guidance is provided by the Scottish Government, it is the responsibility of the council to determine whether an applicant is eligible to receive an award through the Scottish Welfare Fund. This award can take the form of cash, cash in kind or goods. Further information on the Scottish Welfare Fund, including where to apply and eligibility criteria, can be found on the Scottish Government website. Citizens Advice can also help with information about Benefits entitlement.
If you’re in work, you will need to pay Income Tax and National Insurance on your wages through the Pay As You Earn (PAYE) system. However, you are allowed a certain level of income each year, called your Personal Allowance, before you need to pay any Income Tax at all. You will also pay National Insurance contributions if you earn more than £155 a week.
For most of us, your Personal Allowance is spread evenly across your pay packets for the year and your employer will take tax out before giving you your pay.
Your employer will also make National Insurance deductions from your pay. This is worked out depending on the frequency you get paid (i.e.: weekly or monthly). Unless there has been a mistake, you cannot get back any of the National Insurance you pay, even if your earnings fall later in the year.
It’s worth checking how much tax you’ve paid on your wages. If you think you’re paying too much tax, you can check if you’re due a refund by using the HMRC online tax checker. If you have paid too much, you may be able to ask for a refund using a form, or you may need to contact HMRC directly.
Even when you retire, you still have to pay Income Tax on all your pension income, including the State Pension. This may be a surprise – many people assume their pension income – especially the State Pension – will be free from tax, but that’s not the case.
Council tax is a local tax on residential property set and collected by all 32 local authorities in Scotland.
You have to pay council tax regardless of whether the property you live in is owned by you or rented and the property can be a house, bungalow, annexe, flat, maisonette, part of a house in multiple occupation, mobile home or even a houseboat.
Your council tax bill in Scotland usually includes a sum for both the domestic water supply and public sewerage provided by Scottish Water and is collected by the local authority with the council tax.
Each property is placed in one of eight valuation bands, although the amount you’ll be expected to pay on your property in one of these bands will depend on your local authority.
Council tax is based on the assumption there are at least two adults aged 18 or over living in the property. If there are fewer than two adults living in the property, you can apply for a discount. So if you’re aged over 18 and living alone, your council tax bill will be discounted by 25 per cent.
If you or someone else in your household is disabled and you have to live in a larger property as a result, you could be entitled to a discount under the Disabled Band Reduction Scheme.
Likewise, some people are disregarded, which means the council tax will be calculated as if they do not live there.
This isn’t an exhaustive list. More information on people disregarded from council tax calculations can be obtained by contacting Citizens Advice Scotland or your local authority. If you don’t pay your monthly council tax instalments, you will find yourself in arrears and not paying your council tax can have serious consequences.
Council tax is divided into 10 equal monthly instalments, but if you miss one and don’t pay that instalment within seven days, you will lose your right to have the payment spread throughout the year.
If you miss three instalments within a single financial period, you automatically lose your right to pay in instalments and will need to pay the remaining amount in full. The final stage is that you could be sent a summary warrant by sheriff officers. If you still haven’t paid what you owe within 14 days, sheriff officers have powers to obtain the money from you by, for example, freezing your bank account or removing items from your home to sell them.
If you find yourself in arrears, don’t panic – but equally, don’t bury your head in the sand and hope your local authority forgets about you. It’s important to contact your council or external agency acting on its behalf as soon as possible to talk through your income, financial commitments and any of other debts you may have, particularly if you owe the local authority any other money such as rent.