Life, according to a famous movie quote, tends to come at you fast. Plans are disrupted; errands pile up; and some days, there’s not much more to do than just try to get through it.
Given the above, it’s unsurprising that, on occasion, even the most money-savvy of individuals can experience financial blips. Sometimes, there’s simply not time to sit and research the best possible price before committing to any purchase, carefully compile a budget, and go through a bank account to track every transaction; life just gets in the way.
Ultimately, what matters most if you notice that your financial management seems to have spiralled out of control is that you can regain control. In such a scenario, what you need is a complete financial reset - and below, we’ve provided a step-by-step guide that should help you to achieve just that.
Step One: Meet your immediate needs
Before beginning to look at your financials as a whole, you’ll need to meet your immediate needs. Calculate how much money you have available to you for the next four months, then deduct essentials such as regular bills, food costs, childcare payments, and so on. If there’s a shortfall, it’s worth considering a fast loan or, if possible, borrowing from your savings to bridge the gap.
Step Two: Gather information
Step One essentially buys you a little breathing room, which is crucial if you are going to be able to fully reset your finances. Now that you have the necessary space, you’ll need to make a complete assessment of your current situation.
Collect together information relating to any aspect of your finances, such as overdue bills, late credit payments, details of regular payments you are committed to, insurance policies you are paying, and so on. You’ll also need to be able to get the exact figures for the amount of money in your bank account, as well as the total balance on any credit cards and loans you may have.
Step Three: Address the most urgent concerns
If you have an overdue bill that needs to be paid, or are close to defaulting on a credit account, then these should be your first priority. At this point, it’s usually best to just ask for time by contacting the company who has issued the bill or your creditors. Explain that you are aware that a payment is due and that you are working on the issue.
If payment is demanded immediately regardless, then you may have to dip into your savings or consider financing to cover this. However, if you are given more time to meet the demand, then set these concerns aside for the moment and move on to…
Step Four: Start to create a new budget
Using the information you compiled in Step Two, you can now formulate a new budget. Start by listing your most essential outgoings, the things you need to pay either through necessity (your mortgage, your utility bills) or because they have to be paid in order to avoid penalties or legal repercussions (council tax, car insurance). You can then deduct these from your expected income.
The amount you have left after essentials can be distributed across other sections of your budget, such as transport costs, streaming subscription services, non-essential insurance products, and so on.
Step Five: Turn your focus to reducing outgoings
By this point, you know that you can meet your immediate needs and that you have a budget to follow. You can now turn your focus to trying to reduce your regular outgoings, and making sure you’re getting a good deal wherever possible.
To do this, call every company that you make a regular payment to. Simply ask if there is anything that you can do to reduce your payments; effectively, you’re bargain-hunting with companies you already have a relationship with. If no offers are forthcoming, then look for options - such as switching to a different electricity company - that could save you a significant amount of money.
In addition, you may also want to consider cancelling outgoings that you no longer need. This cut doesn’t have to be permanent as you can reintroduce services as your finances stabilise, but it can really help in the long term.
Step Six: Move on to debt
You may be wondering why debt would come after your outgoings, as reducing a debt burden seems to be more important than cutting a few pounds off your smartphone bill - but there is a reason to leave debt until this point. With your outgoings as low as possible, you should now have an idea of how much you can reasonably pay towards debt each month. While your minimum payments will have been met when you created your budget, paying more than this is always strongly advised.
To start, first go back to Step Two. Any overdue debts or missed bill payments should always be a priority, especially if one extension to the payment date has already been agreed.
When you’re back up-to-date, you can settle on a portion of your disposable income which goes to debt repayment. When you have decided on a number, you’ll need to prioritise which debt to focus on. There are two options to consider in this regard:
Pay down the debt with the highest interest rate first. This choice is perhaps the most financially prudent.
Pay down the smallest debt, as in the debt with the lowest total amount owing. While not necessarily the soundest financial strategy - as higher interest debts are more expensive in the long-term - this method does allow you to pay off one debt in fully rather quickly, which can be psychologically beneficial.
The idea is to divert all of your spare debt repayment funds to just one debt - be it the debt with the highest interest rate, or the lowest overall amount - until it is completely clear, then use all of your funds to pay down the next debt, then the next, and so on until you are debt-free.
Following the above steps should allow you to completely reset your finances; your immediate needs will be met, urgent demands will be dealt with, and you’ll have a budget and strategy in place that should continue to benefit you into the future.