As Christmas approaches and energy prices rise, it’s time to start an open conversation about money.
Often seeming awkward or uncomfortable, talking about money can be daunting, but it is an important step to financial health, which in turn can prevent increased stress and anxiety. Job losses, extended periods of reduced income and health problems have all contributed increased worries around money during the last 18 months.
“There’s been winners and losers but for the people who lost it’s been really hard financially,” emphasises Nicholas Hill, senior advice manager at the Money and Pensions Service (MaPS). “We know how important it is to make sure people are aware of the benefits they are entitled to maximise their money.”
MaPS provides essential support and guidance around money throughout the UK.
“If you have seen your income change then it’s really critical to review how you’re spending your money,” advises Nicholas.
Taking place from 8-12 November, the MaPS Talk Money Week gives people the chance to do something vital: start an open, honest conversation about finances.
“It’s really critical to have those conversations so you can start to feel in control of your money,” emphasises Nicholas. “We’ve got range of content which will help you depending on the situation, it might be teaching kids about money or having a conversation about money with friends and family.”
Discussions around money are always important, whether you feel like you are in a positive place with money or otherwise. Without this, it can lead to problem debt or mental health problems.
“Even picking up the phone to someone like MaPS and having the chance to talk about it with somebody on the other end, it means there’s somebody there to help you and it can make a huge difference to people.”
If you are a carer and help manage your loved one’s finances, or want to speak about your financial situation with a friend or family member, finding the right time to start this discussion is important.
“Ultimately it has to be an open conversation,” explains Nicholas. “Really you want to be talking when they’ve got a bit of energy.
An event like Talk Money Week is a great excuse to bring up the topic of money, or if you are watching a show where the topic comes up. These indirect methods can remove additional pressure.
“Maybe there’s something happening with a friend and that’s the way into the conversation,” suggests Nicholas. “It’s just finding something in your life where you would feel comfortable raising it because you don’t want to force the conversation too much.
If you are in a setting where it isn’t safe to talk about money, or to call an advice provider like MaPS, you can visit a pharmacy like Superdrug, Boots or Morrisons that has a consultation room. Staff in these spaces have training to support you and help you feel comfortable.
The lead up to the festive season can be an especially stressful time when it comes to finances, with gift-giving and a full social calendar increasing the pressure to spend, even when you don’t have much to spare.
“With Christmas coming up there’s that pressure which comes with spending, you don’t want to have something to deal with after Christmas, it’s better to plan beforehand,” suggests Nicholas. “If you have changed income whether it be a job loss or you’ve been on furlough, then adjusting to your new situation at this time is so important.”
Planning ahead can include helpful discussions with the people you would usually spend the festive season with, even if you don’t feel comfortable telling them the details of your financial situation.
“You could go down the line of thinking about Secret Santa where everyone gets one dedicated present for another person or maybe just buy for kids, but having that conversation sooner rather than later means you have the option,” enthuses Nicholas.
Creating a budget, or updating your current one, is an important step to preparing for the festive season, considering out incoming and out goings. The MaPS budget planner tool, available on the website, is a great tool to get advice on where you can save and avoid problem debt.
“Ultimately doing a good benefits check is also a really good housekeeping exercise to make sure you’re getting all of the support you’re entitled to.”
As we approach winter and the nights get colder, there are also concerns around rising energy prices and unexpected costs like replacement boilers and other fixes. Being informed can help to ensure you are looking after your physical health at this time.
“It’s worth reviewing your provider and making sure you’re paying the appropriate amount,” explains Nicholas. “If you’ve not switched your utility providers in the past year you could save just by switching provider which is a 20-minute task.
“There’s also checking whether you can get any energy saving grants, or if you’re not eligible for these then you might go to the Energy Saving Trust website and just make sure you’re checking what you’re eligible for.”
Starting a conversation on money, creating a budget and ensuring you are receiving all of the support you are entitled to can make a difference this winter.