3 tips for your money in 2012
WILL the world end in 2012? According to some, the fact that the 5,125-year-old Mayan calendar suddenly comes to an end on 21 December 2012 is a sign that it will.
My view? There is absolutely no chance of that happening.
So what can we predict for next year with any degree of accuracy? Will the eurozone collapse? Will China's stuttering economy implode? Will Chelsea or Arsenal finally win the Champions League?
Any of the above could happen but may not. Crystal-ball gazing is a waste of time. I know that investors have to take a view of what may happen to companies or markets, but let's be honest, at best, it's well-informed guesswork.
So at a time when many of you may be thinking of New Year resolutions that may improve your finances, I'm going to give you my own top three tips that will definitely make a difference if you follow them next year.
First tip: rip up your credit card
You can live without it. As long as you have a debit card, you have the convenience of plastic. But with one key difference. Every time you spend with a debit card you know the cash is coming out of your bank account (or putting you deeper into the red).
With a credit card it's easy to fall into a mind-set that you can flash the plastic and worry about repaying the cash in the future. But the more you live off credit, the more of your money will disappear simply to meet interest payments.
Living without a credit card will take away the temptation to overspend. (Of course those of you who pay off your card every month and earn cashback or rewards for using the plastic can continue to do so, as long as you really are on top of your spending. Me? I'd rather not take the risk.)
Second tip: Ignore all the money-saving sites and discount codes that you come across
They seem to be turning into a nefarious encouragement to spend. One of the most wrong-headed phrases I seem to hear more and more from people is: "At that price you can't go wrong."
Sure, there are plenty of bargains out there - but if you end up buying something just because it appears a great deal, the truth is that you're spending money you don't need to. Pretty soon, you're buying so many bargains that you're deep in debt.
I'll let you into a well-known secret. Most of these so-called bargains are just companies getting rid of stuff that they couldn't sell. So avoid the money-saving sites and actually save some money for a change. (Again, if you're planning to buy something, then it make sense to seek out discounts or vouchers. In that case, the sites can prove a great boon.)
Third tip: check out the small print
Any financial arrangement you enter into is not as clear as it seems.
For instance, is a five-year fixed-rate mortgage at 4 per cent better than a similar 5 per cent deal? The lower rate may actually be much more expensive once you've taken into account the arrangement fee, the booking charge, or the early repayment penalty.
What about a zero per cent credit card? Surely that's "at a price that you can't go wrong"? It depends on the handling fee. Barclaycard's new 24-month offer, for instance charges 3.2 per cent.
In other words, to get the 0 per cent deal, you'll have to pay AU$32 per thousand dollars transferred to the card. In addition, you run the risk of moving from a low-paying card to a much higher rate.
The same is true, of course, of charges on investments. Fund managers can charge as much as 5 per cent, for instance, which means the funds need to outperform the market by at least 6 per cent to make you any money. It's all there in the small print. Look at it closely and you will end up better off. Happy New Year!