Your 5-step plan to a pay riseThis is a sponsored guest post

As with most parents, my hands are pretty full to be worrying about things like the news and current affairs too much. Frankly, it isn’t exactly a hotbed for optimism and happiness anyway, and does little for my chi. But the bliss of ignorance can only get you so far, and it’s difficult to shake that tangible feeling that, economically anyway, these are challenging times. But, against a backdrop of stretched budgets and prophets of doom and gloom, the good news is that you’re in line for a pay rise. Nope, not from your boss – from yourself! All it takes is a little bit of savvy and not a lot of effort. Here are some ways you can free up a whole lot more pennies for you and your family to spend (or save!)…

Switch energy provider

There is talk of caps being introduced after the next General Election anyway, and it’s about time, as energy firms have, quite simply, taken the mickey out of us consumers for years. Shamefully, they lock you into fixed-rate deals which, after a while, become immensely uncompetitive, and yet fail to adequately advise you of this. It’s essentially preying on our laziness, but by being proactive and switching provider thanks to price comparison tools, you can literally save hundreds each year. Switch bank accounts and get cold, hard cash! Switching is the way to go to boost the coffers, and bank accounts are no exception. Whatever your thoughts about banks, there is one ongoing truth: they want our money, and they’re even willing to pay for it. The likes of First Direct and Co-op offer up to £100 for doing so, and, thanks to recent legislation, the burden for making the change, switching direct debits etc falls on the new bank – not you. You just get to sit back and pocket the money!

Credit card cashback

We all love and loathe credit cards – they’re both good and bad. But if you’re in a position to pay off the balance each month, you’re pretty much laughing. Not only that, but you could be wasting an opportunity to earn great rewards too. For example, Amex Platinum cards offer you up to 5 per cent cashback on all your spend for the first three months. Hard to argue with that! There are some other brands out there offering decent rewards too, but, whichever way you go, be sure to pay off the balance. Otherwise the interest costs will nullify the benefits.

Sort out credit card debt

Following on from the above, if you find yourself with inflated credit card debt and/or overdrafts, the time to act is now. Basically, credit card APRs are almost always north or 20 per cent, which is very, very high, especially in today’s low-interest environment. And if you one of those who is stuck making minimum repayments, you’re basically entrenching yourself in debt. Instead, why not look at easy, hassle-free alternatives like 0% balance transfer cards, or even loans to consolidate your credit card debts into something much cheaper.

Be a freebie connoisseur

I spent a few minutes looking around on the web the other day, and it’s amazing the variety (and value) of deals and freebies out there. Restaurant deals where kids eat free? Free holiday coaching for things like tennis and football (the latter powered by the FA)? Family train ticket discounts? Clothes and fashion? Free days out for families? Even hefty health and beauty discounts? It’s all there – you just need to scratch slightly below the surface, and you’ll save a huge chunk. It is, quite literally, more fun for less – exactly how life should be.