Finance expert shares top tips on how to make the most of your money through January

Worried about making your end-of-year pay packet stretch through January? Here are some suggestions to help with finances, writes Vicky Shaw.

Making personal finances stretch during December and January can be a challenge. Photo: iStock/PA.

January is often a tough month financially for many people – and the turmoil of 2020 may have made it even harder to stretch your end-of-December pay cheque through the first month of 2021.

Many people are paid earlier in December than they usually are in other months – so the money will need to last for even longer until January’s pay arrives. To help you make it through to the end of January, Andy Barr, a personal finance expert and co-founder of online price tracking website, shares some tips.

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Try returning any unwanted gifts, he says. If that reindeer jumper from your relative wasn’t what you wanted over Christmas, try getting a refund if you can. However, this may need to be done via the person who originally bought the item, so you may need to be prepared for an awkward conversation with the gift-giver.

Andy Barr from money website Alertr. Photo: Alertr/PA

If a refund is not possible, see if the store will offer a credit note that you can save for later or use on something that will come in handy right now, whether that’s towards your food shopping or something else.

It might feel like you’re crossing a line, but you’re better off with something which is of use to you – and if you approach the conversation in the right way, the gift-giver may be more understanding about the situation than you’d thought.

Setting a budget is also key, Andy says. Figure out what money you have left over after paying your regular bills and buying necessities, such as food shopping and fuel for your car. From here, you can see what you’re left with and then divide the remainder between the days or weeks you have before your January pay day.

Once you’ve set your budget, keep the amount for essentials somewhere physically different, such as in a separate account. It may look like a stark amount left, but it will make you more conscious about what you can spend your money on.

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When it comes to food shopping, search out yellow stickers, Andy advises. Many supermarkets and convenience stores discount fresh produce that’s coming up to its sell-by date.

Many stores have a set time of day when they like to reduce their products, but a lot of the time it can be pot luck. Be sure to rifle through the discounts when you see them.

It’s also a good time to batch-cook meals and try out new recipes. If you have a variety of items in your cupboards and aren’t sure what to make, there are many apps and websites where you can input the ingredients and recipe suggestions will be offered.

Shopping around for discounts and deals can also help to ease the financial strain of January.Before making any purchase, in-store or online, do a quick online search to see if there are any discounts or deals you can apply to your purchases. These might be a discount off the total spend, free delivery or even offers that make your money go further.

Also make sure to use any loyalty schemes with the shops and retailers you use regularly. This could entitle you to additional exclusive discounts and vouchers if you’re on their mail lists.

Finally, Andy suggests, recreating ‘going out’ experiences cheaply at home. Lockdown restrictions meant that for many people, nights out in 2020 were few and far between. But staying in, of course, can save some money – particularly as you can set a budget for the night beforehand and won’t have to scroll through your banking app the morning after to work out how much you ended up spending.

Whether it’s by creating a nice meal at home instead of at a restaurant, or having a movie night at home complete with popcorn instead of a trip to the cinema, you can save costs and have an entertaining night in.

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