14:03 04 September 2006
If you've come home from a fortnight in the sun to be greeted by a pile of red bills take a grain of comfort from the fact that you are certainly not alone.
More than one in 10 Brits put their holiday on their credit card while one in four admits they have no idea how much they're spending while they're abroad.
After Christmas, the post-holiday season is the worst for debt and this year the problem is set to deteriorate even further.
We all already owe more money than ever - the UK personal debt now stands at 1,228 billion, having grown 10.3 per cent in the past year alone.
But the worst thing you can do is bury your head in the sand. Start our "get debt-free" plan today and get back in the black.
1. Draw up a budget
Take a deep breath and check out how much you've spent on holiday. Daunting - but better than letting your debt get out of hand.
Debt Advice Bureau (www.debtadvicebureau.org.uk), a free, not-for-profit service, advises writing down all your incomings, such as salary and benefits, and offsetting these against all expenses - including that Friday night takeaway and your bus fare to work. From this you can calculate what you can spend while paying off your debts. It should help you to control any tendencies to fritter too.
2. Make sacrifices
Ditch that daily 1.50 coffee on the way to work and you'll save 352.50 a year. Take a packed lunch, ban takeaways and ready meals and cook from scratch. Replace fizzy drinks with tap water and consider whether you really need cable TV.
3. Sell your junk
Clear your clutter then flog your good junk at a car-boot sale - check your local paper for details. Alternatively, try eBay for individual items. Got designer gear you no longer wear? Find your nearest dress agency at www.localuk.com
4. Be a creative earner
There are plenty of little-known ways to make money without getting arrested. You can get 25 by completing an online survey for www.gozingsurveys.com or earn up to 100 dishing dirt to marketing agencies on shops and restaurants. Check out www.retaileyes.com or call 01908 328000.
Fancy something more glam? Film extras can earn around 100 a day. Call 020 8962 0099 or visit www.castingcollective.co.uk.
Why not become a model - and no, you don't have to look like Kate Moss. Offer your services as a life model to your local art college and earn around 11 for stripping off or 8 for clothed modelling. If there are any budding David Hockneys, you could also end up on the walls of the Tate one day.
5. Throw a party
If you've got friends who love to spend, spend, spend, host a cosmetics party for a company like Virgin Vie (call 0845 300 8022) or Avon (www.avonuk.com). However, make sure you know enough shopaholics first as you need to fork out up front to register.
And get internet-savvy. Not only will you find special online shopping discounts but you can save on petrol and parking too.
6. Involve the family
Thrift expert Jane Furnival suggests calling a family meeting and getting everyone to volunteer to give something up. "If someone threatens to storm out, warn them that everyone else will decide for them," she says. "It's called tough love!"
7. Just deserts
Are you one of those people missing out on the 4.5billion a year in unclaimed benefits? Make sure you get what you're entitled to by contacting your local Citizens Advice Bureau or The Community Legal Service Direct (0845 345 345/ www.clsdirect.org.uk).
8. Find cheap deals
Switching to better value suppliers on your phone, electricity, gas, water or TV can save precious pounds. Contact comparison service uSwitch for impartial advice.
9. Shop around
You wouldn't buy the first car you looked at so why would you snap up the first mortgage, loan or insurance deal you're offered?
10. Carry cash
You may feel tempted to slap more on plastic simply because it doesn't feel like real money. Hide or cut up cards and use notes instead.
11. Use a loyalty card
Believe it or not, the average UK family saves 26 a week by using a loyalty card!
12. Get some things for nothing
You just have to know where to look. A good place to start is www.freebieholics.co.uk, which shows you where you can get free products and services from demo CDs and movie tickets to gadgets, toys and books.
13. Manage the crisis
Whatever you do, don't take out a last-ditch loan. "Firms advertising in small ads may charge exorbitant interest rates," warns Jane Furnival. Also be wary of consolidation loans and agencies that charge to take on debts.
There are free services out there no matter how big your problem. Try the Consumer Credit Counselling Service on 0800 138 1111 or log on to www.cccs.co.uk.
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