Seven easy steps to help you become a better saver - Sarah Coles

Like most people, I started the first lockdown with lofty ambitions to lose weight and get fit, and like most people, I was soon knee-deep in banana bread and sloth.

In fact, if weight gain was a competitive sport, I could have been picked for team GB.

This time round, I started with exactly the same ambitions, and have completed the couch to 5k and lost almost a quarter of my body weight.

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I don’t mention this purely to make you hate me – although at this stage I realise that’s a risk.

The author likens running to saving.

I am sharing the steps that made the difference, because they are pretty straightforward, and can help anyone transform any area of their life – especially their finances.

1) Start with a really specific ‘what?’ It’s not enough to say: ‘I need to lose weight’, or ‘I need to save money’.

Without a specific goal and a deadline, your efforts will slip.

If, for example, you want to cut your debts a bit, you might pay a little extra off your credit card for a couple of months and then feel you’re heading in the right direction and stop.

If, however, you plan to pay off your credit card within six months, it shows you exactly what you need to do, and the consequences if you do not.

2) Break down the ‘what’ into manageable chunks. The couch to 5k has been a roaring success because it does exactly this.

You don’t need to haul on your trainers and pound the pavements for half an hour to succeed: in week one you just have to manage a slow jog for 60 seconds at a time.

If the thought of saving an emergency fund of £4,000 feels like too much, work on freeing up £100 a month and making a start.

3) Focus on the ‘why?’ This will help reinforce your commitment if it wavers.

If, for example, you want to invest to support your child’s university education, the ‘why’ is the cost of borrowing that could hang over them for years if they don’t have financial help.

In health terms, my ‘why’ was a particularly blunt report on the link between excess weight and the risk of dying from Covid.

4) Work through the ‘how?’ Think about your end goal, the hurdles you have to overcome, and the solutions you’ll need in place.

If, for example, you want to start investing, you might think that you don’t have enough spare cash.

It means that to hit your goal, you need to work all the way back to drawing up a budget to reveal the best way to cut your costs and free up some cash to invest. You can then work through finding the most sensible place for that money.

5) Adjust to problem-solving. You’re going to face challenges, so you need to accept this and commit to finding a way through.

I had previously given up with my couch to 5k efforts because I’m getting a bit long in the tooth and jogging was making my knees and hips hurt.

However, this time round, I decided to do a month of daily online yoga before I hit the road.

I then hit the problem that I find yoga profoundly boring, so I arranged to call a friend each morning, and do it together, which has made a huge difference.

6) Make it as easy as possible. When it comes to your finances you can automate an awful lot of the right things, like regular direct debits to pay off debts, start savings, or build investments.

When it came to my fitness goals, I started by calling my yoga buddy the second my alarm went off in the morning - without stopping to think about it - so we could talk each other into it as we got up.

7) Get started. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the size of the task ahead of you.

However, all you need is one small step to get you closer.

If, for example, you’re struggling to choose investments, then as long as you’re aware of the risk that their value can go down as well as up, particularly in the short term, you can start by getting to grips with the kinds of broad investment options that tend to be reasonable for most investors, like an absolute return fund (which invests in lots of things and tries to balance growth with protecting your money) or a global tracker fund (which is set up to follow overall global market movements).

Once you’ve taken this step, you might be ready to start researching more investment options, so you can build a portfolio of funds tailored to your needs.

Alternatively, you could consider starting with the kind of fund that’s generally fairly reasonable for most investors.

Then you can build your knowledge as you go along, and spread your money elsewhere when you are ready.

I am reliably informed that setting your goals and then hitting them is hard work, but it’s worth it.

I cannot tell you the joy of the immense smugness of hitting your health goals, because I have not got there yet.

It is all still a work in progress.

However, I can vouch for the absolute pleasure of being able to silence the nagging voice in your head that is telling you off for not having got round to starting.

ONS figures out last week revealed that in the year to March, house prices rose faster in Yorkshire and The Humber than anywhere else in the UK: they were up 14 per cent in a year. This is the kind of double-figure house price rise we saw in the heady days before the financial crisis, and makes the market a riskier place for buyers.

On the plus side, lenders are far more cautious than they were back in 2007, so there’s far less likelihood of a mortgage crisis. However, in this kind of market, there’s still the risk that buyers could make a property mistake that could haunt them. If you’re being sucked into a bidding war or can feel yourself panicking that if you don’t buy now, you never will, take a step back.

If you can afford to pay more for the property, and you’ll still be happy that you did when the heat comes out of the market, then you may want to go ahead. Otherwise, it’s worth reassessing what you can afford. It might mean compromising on the property or the area, which nobody enjoys doing. However, if it means you can afford the mortgage without stretching your finances to breaking point, these compromises may well be worth it.