Monday, June 27, 2011

Financial advice we all ignore

, 16:01, Friday 24 June 2011
For as long as there has been money, there has been advice on how you should save it and use it. The problem is that some of this advice, while undoubtedly correct, just doesn't fit in with our lives.
To try and help, we've rounded up some of the least-followed pieces of advice, and offered solutions that should hopefully be a lot easier to stick with.
Never use the same PIN/password twice
This is sound, sensible advice. It reduces the chance of your accounts being hacked or you being ripped off. Except for one thing.... Last count I had more than a dozen different passwords and at least four PINs. I can remember the PINs, but with the passwords (some of which have to change every three months) I would have no hope of remembering if I never used the same one twice.
What to do: Instead of completely different passwords, try variations on a theme. These can be picked at random - so Rovers Return landladies coupled with old car registrations for example. That way you can have different passwords for everything and still work out what they are if you forget.
ATM machine / Fotolia
Don't write down passwords
This goes hand in hand with the above advice. Of course you shouldn't write them down. But when your broadband key is a 12-digit, abstract, alpha-numeric sequence you've used once, ever, I defy any normal mortal to remember it.
What to do: If you're writing something down, whatever you do don't have a piece of paper in your bedside drawer/top drawer of the dresser which has "passwords" written at the top then a list of them. Pick a book then underline the letters of the password in reverse order in Chapter Nine, bury a PIN inside an imaginary phone number in your address book for Tom Curtis - anything that lets you check it without alerting others to what it is.
Shred anything with your address on it before throwing it away/recycling
If we all did this, identity fraud would be an awful lot harder. And we have little excuse when shredders cost less than £10. But given everything from receipts to junk mail comes with either our name, address or even part of our card number/account number on it the odds are some of these will end up in the bin or recycling whole - possibly after a bout of tidying.
What to do: If you're not going to shred, rip things up on the spot - that way at least they won't be in one piece and criminals will have to work harder. It's also advisable to put things in the bin rather than recycling if they're potentially sensitive, as recycling is a lot easier to pick up and sort through from a criminal's perspective.
Make your own lunch
If you're not already doing this at least semi-regularly, there's probably a reason. Not having ingredients at home, not having the time in the morning - there are a lot or reasons for us to just nip to the canteen/sandwich shop/supermarket round the corner and spend a few pounds getting food. It might just be social as you go for lunch with your friends.
What you can do: Find cheaper alternatives (a supermarket sandwich rather than a Pret one) or spend a week trying to make your own food. You might find out it's a habit you enjoy. Failing that, pick up some supermarket sandwiches during your weekly shop, that way you can just grab them in the morning rather than having to make them. A lot of people are now making more food the night before and taking the leftovers in the next day.
Ditch the lattes
Hand in hand with "make your own lunch" goes "ditch the lattes". It seems like every single newspaper and website out there has at some point told people how much money they can save by making their own coffee. But you can't exactly meet a friend in town for a home-made coffee, can you? Also, much like making your own lunch, it's the convenience of a bought coffee on your way to work or the break from your desk during the day that people pay for, as much as the liquid that comes in the paper cup.
What you can do: Firstly, look for independent coffee shops and cafés, where you can still pick up a cup for 70p. If there aren't any of those about, or the coffee's not to your taste, an insulating travel mug might work for you in the mornings (at least for convenience). A pub might even be cheaper to meet friends in than a café — where you can generally get pint of soda-water and lime for less than a pound and coffee is frequently cheaper than in a café. You could also try coffee from places like McDonald's or Subway rather than Starbucks or Pret to save money.
Don't post details of holidays on social media
This is extremely sound advice for every reason bar one. The entire point of sites like Facebook, Twitter and the like is to share what's going on in your life with your friends and family. And even if you scrupulously avoid uploading holiday snaps and details of what's going on while away from home, your friends could well comment on your wall/mention that you are on holiday in a tweet.
What you can do: Make sure your privacy settings are right. Most social networks allow you to clamp down on who can see what's on your page and who can't.
Don't buy holiday money at the airport or use cash machines abroad
We know we should plan ahead, compare deals and get holiday money well in advance. But then there's the mad scramble to the airport, or the struggle to find time to collect the cash in your lunch-break. In the end, you might just run out of cash or not feel comfortable carrying so much currency in a foreign country (or even in this one) - the temptation to head to a cashpoint or get money at the airport/hotel can become too great.
What to do: There's something you can do now that will help you out later - get a travel card. These magical pieces of plastic let you take out money overseas without being charged and frequently at better rates than you can find elsewhere. Pre-paid cards from the likes of CaxtonFX, TravelEx and FairFX let you load money onto them on the phone or online, then use them overseas with no fees. Alternatively, cards like the Halifax Clarity, Santander Zero, Post Office credit card and Saga Platinum don't impose fees for overseas use - but do charge interest and sometimes for cash withdrawals (although that generally still makes them cheaper than other options).
Shop around
We are constantly told to shop around for the best deals on everything from mortgages through credit cards, cars and even our supermarket shopping. But we don't, it just takes too long and requires so much planning (I know several personal finance journalists — people who've written about the exact monetary benefits of shopping around dozens of time — who still don't do this in their own lives).
What to do: Firstly, absolutely do shop around for the big stuff. Mortgages, pensions, expensive purchases andmajor insurance products. In this case, the savings are just too big to ignore. But rather than shop around for everything, every year, instead try going for something that offers long-term value instead.
I've not changed my credit card or current account in years. Why? Because I found a deal that was good and that didn't have a time limit on it — so while I might be able to do better with a 12-month bonus and looking for the top deal on everything every year, I still get a good (if not the very best) deal now and don't need to worry about it. The same goes for some savings products and mortgages - after all, the people who signed up to a lifetime tracker deal five or 10 years ago are laughing now and will continue to be for quite a while.

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