Stay safe with a tailored home security system
Seven ways to get your household admin in order
There’s no better time than the new year for getting your household affairs in order.
If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that it pays to be prepared for life’s unexpected challenges. No one knows what this new year has in store, but we do know there’s no time like the present to set yourself up for success by getting your household admin in order.
So if you’ve been putting off making a household budget or updating your home and contents insurance or finding the best-value internet service, why not start the year as you mean to continue – by getting organised, keeping a keen eye on costs, and ensuring your property and loved ones are protected.
Consumer savings advocate and author of Kill Bills! Joel Gibson says getting the basics of household admin right in January can save you hundreds of dollars over the year. We asked Joel and other experts for their top tips on nailing your life admin for the New Year.
New year’s checklist for getting on top of your household admin
Do a budget
Joel says one of the biggest mistakes people make in managing their finances is not really knowing where their money goes. Start the new year right by drawing up a household budget detailing household income, essential bills and discretionary spending. You can download budget templates from the web or install an app on your phone, but simply putting pen to paper will do.
Go back through your credit-card statements and receipts to check what you’ve been spending over the past year, then record every purchase over the next 30 days. Compare what you’ve spent with what you’ve earnt and if what goes out exceeds what comes in, ask yourself honestly which expenses you can reduce or eliminate. While most people know what their big-ticket expenses are, such as mortgage repayments and utility bills, it’s easy to lose track of what we spend on incidentals, such as a daily coffee, which could add up to more than $1000 over a year.
Household energy bills have spiked due to working from home while record low interest rates mean you might be able to save by refinancing your mortgage.
Tip: Write it down and if money out exceeds money in, ask yourself what you can reduce or eliminate.
Compare your mobile phone and broadband plan
There’s a telco price war going on right now, Joel says, so it could be a good time to switch and save. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission says mobile prices fell 17 per cent during 2019-20 due to a reduction in the price of entry-level plans and significant growth in data allowances and other inclusions. NBN prices have also dropped slightly. Joel says he recently switched mobile provider and is now getting 50GB of data for the same price as he used to pay for 30GB. “If you don’t move every year or two you’ll end up over-paying,” he says.
Tip: Use Australia’s biggest telco comparison website whistleout.com.au to find a better deal on your plan.
Check your insurance
As we accumulate possessions over time it’s easy to overlook increasing our home and contents insurance to reflect the increased value of what we own. The result is that an estimated four out of five Australian households have insufficient insurance cover to replace losses in the event of disaster. Now, with so many people working from home, there may be valuable computer equipment in the home office that’s not covered by insurance.
The easiest way to get a clear picture of the value of your home and contents is to use RACV’s online calculator.
You could be surprised by how much things add up. You may also want to consider optional extras such as accidental damage inside the home, which covers you if, say, you accidentally knock over the TV or put your foot through the ceiling while doing roof repairs.
Tip: Review your assets annually by setting a to-do task on an important date like a birthday.
If you’ve had more than one job in your lifetime you may have money sitting in multiple superannuation accounts with several different fund managers, each one deducting regular administration fees from your account balance. Online investment adviser stockspot.com.au estimates that consolidating four accounts into one could save you as much as $30,000 in fees between the age of 35 and retirement.
Consolidating your super into one account is easy via the Australian Tax Office. Simply go to the super section and select ‘transfer super’ to see all your super accounts. You can then transfer money from one account to another.
But it’s important to seek advice from a licensed financial adviser before deciding on which fund you want to put your super into. The best account for you may not be the one with the highest balance. You might be better off with a completely new fund. Chris Brycki, head of stockspot.com.au, advises looking for funds that have management fees of less than one per cent.
Tip: Be sure to check if you have any life, disability or income protection insurance through a super account before closing it. If you change funds, you might not be able to get the same cover, especially if you are aged 60 or over, or have a pre-existing medical condition.
Tackle your tax
Few of us enjoy doing our tax returns, but neglecting to do so can result in fines. The trick is to keep on top of your records and receipts throughout the year rather than running around trying to find pieces of paper in your desk drawer the day before your return is due. The ATO’s myDeductions app helps keep track of expenses and deductions as you go along, and can even store photos of your invoices and receipts. When the time comes to do your tax return you simply email your data to your tax agent or, if you’re doing it yourself, upload the data to prefill your return on your myGov account.
If you’ve been working from home, don’t forget you may be able to claim such tax office-approved expenses as heating and cooling your work space, stationery and printer ink, and phone and internet costs. While the ATO has extended its shortcut method for claiming work-from-home expenses to this financial year, allowing a flat rate of 80 cents per hour worked at home, you may be better off claiming actual costs rather than the flat rate, so it’s worth keeping track of those receipts.
Tip: Keep on top of your receipts throughout the year to make life easier at tax time.
Make that appointment
As life returns to some semblance of normality after a year of upheaval, there’s no excuse for putting off essential appointments, such as regular medical and dental checks. The Heart Foundation estimates about 500,000 Australians, or one in five people living with heart disease, skipped life-saving check-ups during the COVID-19 lockdowns and there are fears many are still putting off vital appointments.
And don’t forget your car’s health, either. RACV’s senior vehicles engineer Nicholas Platt says it’s essential to follow the recommended servicing schedule on your car to maintain the vehicle and protect your safety. Routine car servicing will inspect areas such as brake pads and rotors which are hidden away but vital for safety. To take the sting out of your next service, RACV members save five per cent on services at RACV's network of Accredited Auto Service Centres.
Tip: Use Google calendar to schedule all your appointments with reminders.
Deal with debt
After an extraordinarily challenging year, some people have found themselves struggling to keep up with mounting debts. Joel says the biggest mistake you can make if you can’t pay your bills is to bury your head in the sand.
He says it’s important to open the bills, do your sums and if there’s a shortfall, talk to your creditors, whether it be the banks or energy providers. These institutions are required to have hardship programs in place for customers doing it tough and offer certain protections such as not cutting off power for those on an agreed installment plan. If you have multiple debts, pay down those with the highest interest rate first, then move onto the second-highest and so on. He says people who deferred their mortgages or rent during COVID and still face difficulties should access free financial counselling about what to do via the National Debt Helpline. Call 1800 007 007 or visit ndh.org.au.
Tip: Those in financial distress may be eligible for a household relief loan of up to $3000 to cover rent, rates, body-corporate fees and utility bills – with no interest, charges or fees. Visit householdrelief.org.au.
The advice provided in this story is general in nature. Individuals should seek professional advice from an independent licensed investment advisor or tax agent before making decisions about financial affairs.