Tackling your debts

Going into debt for dinner

Posted 30 September 2013

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Millions of people could end up paying more than they need to for food, gas and electricity after borrowing money to pay their bills. We look at how you can keep costs down.

It sounds ridiculous doesn't it? But research by Debt Advisory Centre shows that this July, three million people - or 6% of UK adults - borrowed money to pay for food.

Nearly as many - 5% - used credit cards or loans to cover the cost of their gas, electricity and water bills.

The figures are even worse for young people - 18% of people in the 18-to-24 age group and 11% in the 25-to-34 age group borrowed to buy food.

Pushing food costs up

The cost of food has shot up in the last few years, partly thanks to poor weather wrecking harvests and high oil costs making the heating and transport of crops more expensive.

So looking for ways to keep the costs down makes good sense. Some people use credit cards to buy food because their card offers a loyalty scheme that generates points towards discount vouchers every time they use it.

Others use credit to pay for their shopping simply to make ends meet towards payday.

But unless you pay off your credit card bill in full every month, the interest charges can seriously add to the cost of your shopping, making your food even more expensive.

Utility bills on the rise

The cost of gas and electricity has also soared, with politicians accusing energy companies of causing a 'cost-of-living crisis'.

Another round of price rises is expected, and experts predict the average fuel bill will top £1,500 a year in 2014.

Cut the cost of your groceries

First, make sure you know where your money is going. Use a budget planner to work out what you are spending your money on and whether there are any items you can do without.

Before you go shopping, check what you already have in your cupboards and fridge, write a list and make sure you have a full stomach - it's fatal to go food shopping when you are hungry.

While it's often a good idea to opt in for supermarkets' loyalty schemes, don't let the discount vouchers persuade you to buy things you would not normally put in your basket.

And don't limit your shopping to the supermarkets - try local markets and farm shops for cheap and fresh food that is in season.

Take the heat out of utility bills

You could save more than £100 a year by switching to an online gas and electricity deal, and paying by Direct Debit - yet most people have never switched deal or changed provider.

Find out more about Direct Debits here.

There are lots of websites that can help you find the best deal. Just search online for 'switching gas and electricity'.

Water bills are more difficult to reduce, but if you live alone or as part of a couple, you might be able to save money by asking your water company to install a meter.

There are lots of ways to get help paying utility bills, this page has more information.

Seek expert help

If you need help with your debts, there may be a way we can help you. Fill in our form and we'll call you to go over your options.

by Christine Walsh

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