Money 101 essentials - for those who never learned growing up

By Natasha Culzac

School was good for some stuff but for personal finance advice it was not. Start your overhaul today with our Money 101.

Secondary school was great, wasn’t it? We learnt some really important stuff: how to shoot tissue through a McDonalds straw; how to develop crippling anxiety around those we fancy. Such fun! And such a shame that many of us now wish we’d put as much effort into listening to our maths and Spanish teachers as we did in teasing them.

If only we’d learnt all about mortgages, bank accounts, taxes and other civic duties – things would be much different, wouldn’t they? Pah. Who are we kidding, we wouldn’t have paid any attention.

Learning on the job

Hello, student! Welcome to the University of Life, where tests become much more real and where graduation is a morbid affair. But don’t worry – we’re here to try and help you finally suss out your monetary life.

Confused about how best to manage your money? Want to get into good financial habits? Here’s how you can make a start on cleaning up your accounts and making yourself attractive to lenders.

Wrestle back control

The aim of the game is to spend less than you have coming in, and for any surplus cash to go on existing debts or in savings.

Firstly, if you don’t know what your outgoings are then it’s a good idea to try writing a spending diary. Jot down, for a month, what you’ve paid out from the cappuccino and takeaway sushi at lunchtime to your rent. Keep receipts and regularly (at least daily) check your online bank statements.

If you’re addicted to your phone – and let’s face it, who isn’t – there are some really helpful apps you could try, which help you log everything with pretty colour-coded pie charts. Try Toshl, Monefy or Wally. You could also use the Money Advice Service’s online Budget Planner. If you want to know the whole lowdown on budgeting apps, you can read this in article that covers it all!

Once you know what’s coming in and out (ahem), it’s time to start working out what debts, if any, you have or how you could start to build up an emergency savings fund.

Saving All My Love For You

You’d probably save a mint if you just gave your outgoings a bit of an audit. So what luxuries which you currently swear by, can you feasibly say “sayonara” to? The weekend-only packet of 10 fags? The plush gym membership? The monthly cocktail session? It’s time to really evaluate it all to see where savings can be had.

For example, if you have an expensive gym membership, should you downgrade to a local council sports centre? Instead of meeting the boys/girls out for dinner once a month, can you take it in turns to host it at home? Start making work lunches instead of buying them out? Start cycling to work (depending on the season/how safe it is) instead of taking the bus/train, which will inevitably cost a packet if you dare live in London?

There are many ways to start cutting the costs of everyday life, to know more about this click here.

There are also many ways to make savings at home:

Switch energy or telecomms suppliers

Switch your credit card to a 0% balance transfer one

Go onto a sim-only phone deal

Get cashback on large purchases, with websites such as QuidCo or TopCashback

For more ideas, read our Complete Guide to being home-saving savvy.

Kick that debt to the curb

Once you’ve scrutinised your spends, it’s time to see how much you can adequately chuck on debts. You should have already allocated interest payments as part of your monthly budget and if you have an overdraft, credit card or both, then the idea of paying it off can feel like scaling Everest on a hangover. Take into account the following:

Don’t start saving before you have paid off debts – it’s a false economy

Prioritise debts with the highest interest rates

Don’t pay off the ‘minimum’ - it will literally take you years to clear the debt. Increase your monthly payments to the most you can


If you’re serious about whipping your finances into shape, there’s another aspect which you need to consider: your credit score. This is the rating that lenders give you when they assess you for anything from a mortgage to a mobile phone contract. The higher your score, the more creditworthy you are. Your score is based on a number of factors including how reliable you’ve been at paying your bills, how much debt you currently have and whether you’ve had any CCJs or bankruptcies.

Unfortunately you won’t know the score that a lender gives you, because it’s done in private, but you can join one of the credit reference agencies who collate all this information about you, to see where you roughly sit.

It’s actually pretty bloody interesting and it’s important to know this information because if you want to get a mortgage or a new car on finance in a few years’ time, it’s this sort of thing that will be make or break for you. Getting your score as high as possible is something to aim towards because generally the higher your score the better the interest rate you’ll be offered. So it will literally save you £££s.

To know more about what is a credit score and why you should care, take a look at this article here.

Register for our free credit score check here, or for other free online tools try Noddle or ClearScore.

Savvy banking

As mentioned in an earlier section, if you currently pay interest on a credit card, you can switch to to a 0% balance transfer one and take advantage of as many as 33 months without paying interest on the debt. Don’t, however, just apply for loads of these cards to see which you’ll be approved for. This hurts your credit score. Do a soft search, using your financial details, to see which cards you’ll most likely be accepted for and apply for one of those.

When it comes to bank accounts, don’t automatically go for a packaged account – the ones with mobile, travel and breakdown insurance thrown in – because the deal might not be as good for you as you think it is, especially if you don’t use the insurance or could get it cheaper elsewhere. If you’re a graduate or a student, make sure you’ve got a bank account which offers 0% interest on your overdraft. Check out MoneySavingExpert’s advice on the best bank accounts for your individual needs.

Top Takeaway

It’s never too late to get to grips with your finances. The first step is often pulling your head out of the sand and accepting what you need to do. It’s better to start now and be in control in a year or two’s time, than panic when things have hit the fan and you’ve got no savings to fall back on.

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