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Life hacks: Simple money habits to adopt right now

How to get on top of your finances before they get on top of you.

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Last updated: 11 March 2022

How many of us have "sort out finances" on our to-do list? And how long has it been on the list for? 

Managing your money can seem like a daunting task, even for the most financially savvy among us. We've compiled a list of simple changes you can implement to help you take control of your finances. Even if you start with just one or two of these tips you'll be on your way to getting ahead financially. 

Health insurance

First things first: make sure you understand which health insurance products you need. (Easier said than done, we know!) This will help you avoid paying more than you need to. A couple of basics you should be aware of:

  • Hospital cover and extras cover are two quite different things. You can have one without the other, and even if you choose to have both, you can go with two completely different companies to get the best deal. 
  • Even if you have hospital insurance, you could still end up having to pay out-of-pocket costs for surgeries and stays at private hospitals. 
  • Taking out extras cover won't help you avoid tax penalties. If you're a higher income earner, then you'll need to take out hospital cover so you don't have to pay extra tax.
  • Most people don't actually get value from their extras cover. If you only have a check-up at the dentist and a couple of physio appointments a year, chances are you'd be better off cancelling your extras cover and putting the money into savings. 
money saving health insurance

Small insurers sometimes have better deals.

So that's the basics. What else do you need to know so you can avoid paying too much for health insurance?

  • Private health insurance funds usually increase their premiums on 1 April each year. However, in 2022, many health funds are delaying their premium increases – including three of the five main funds. NIB will increase its premiums on 1 September, Medibank on 1 October and HCF on 1 November. Normally we'd recommend pre-paying your premium on 31 March to lock in the price for the next year, but for 2022 you should check on what's happening with your health insurer. 
  • Some funds are introducing 'flex' extras cover. This lets you tailor your cover with the services you know you're going to use, so you don't pay for a lot of things you'll never claim for. This could be an option to consider for people who only use a few services and need cover for them.
  • You can decrease the premium on your hospital cover by increasing your excess. If you're not planning to have any surgery in the next two years, we suggest you increase the excess on your hospital cover to $750 for a single (or $1500 for a couple/family) to reduce how much you pay for your cover. 
  • Don't stay with a big insurer just because you see their name everywhere. Health insurance is regulated and small insurers are just as safe as big ones – and sometimes they have the best deals. 
  • Some funds offer discounts for direct debit payments or pre-paying your premiums. Make use of these if you can!
  • Compare prices for hospital cover at least once a year to make sure you're still getting the best deal. Some comparison sites only offer information about a few funds. CHOICE has policies from more than 36 health insurers in our health insurance comparison tool

Superannuation

It's hard to get excited about super – it can feel too far into the future to worry about, especially when you're just trying to manage week to week. But a few small changes now can really pay off in your retirement. Here's what our CHOICE superannuation experts recommend. 

  • Do you have multiple super accounts? That means you're paying fees on every single account, rather than just one lot of charges. Roll all your super into one high-performing account and it'll grow much faster. You can find out if you have any extra super accounts floating around by logging into myGov. 
  • Make sure your super fund is performing well and isn't gouging you on fees. You can do this through the ATO super fund comparison tool, which is free and easy to use. 
  • Check the insurance you're paying for through your super is right for you. If you're not sure, check with your fund by email or snail mail (don't call them). We have a template for asking your fund about the insurance in your super
  • Not sure what you need to do to start planning for retirement? Check our retirement planning checklist for free resources. 
  • How much do you need to retire? We're working out new guidelines based on how much people actually spend in their retirement. Send us your feedback – it'll help other Australians plan for their retirement. 
  • Want to invest ethically? Don't choose a fund based solely on their name or their general claims – make sure you dig deeper. Some funds throw around terms like 'ethical', 'sustainable' and 'responsible' but their investments might not align with your values. From the end of March 2022, new requirements will come in for portfolio holdings disclosures, which will make things easier. 
  • Make sure your death benefit nominations are up to date and valid – this way you can be sure that your super goes where you want it to. Our guide to where your super goes when you die can help you figure this out. You can also check with your fund. 
looking over utility bill to save money

If you have multiple super accounts, you're paying fees on all of them.

Other insurance

Here at CHOICE, we often refer to the "loyalty penalty": the price your insurer charges you for staying loyal to them instead of shopping around. 

If you've been with a particular insurer for a while, shop around for a better deal rather than just automatically renewing your insurance with them. Many insurers offer great deals for new customers to secure their business, so you could save yourself some money by switching providers.

It's also worth asking your current insurer what they can do to keep your business – if they think they could lose you as a customer, they might be prepared to offer you a better deal. 

Car insurance

Here's what our car insurance expert had to say:

If you choose only one insurance to drive a bargain on (pun intended!), car insurance is it. The policies have a lot more in common than insurers would like you to know about, and most insurers are keen to hold onto, or acquire your business. You just need to shop around when your renewal comes up. 

Use our car insurance comparison to review price, as well as cover for items left in your car (like laptops and smartphones), and rental car cover for when your own car has been damaged or stolen. Also consider whether the added extras in car insurance, such as choice of repairer will really benefit you.

And a few more car insurance tips:

Home insurance

This is where you should dive into the detail and compare policy features as much as price.

First you need to understand if you're in an area prone to natural disasters such as fire or flood. A good insurer will let you know this information. If you are in an area prone to natural disaster, make sure you understand what is the appropriate level of sum insured to rebuild your property. 

Then ask your insurer for more information: Is there cover on top of the sum insured if you have to rebuild your home to higher standards? What happens if the price of re-building, and renting a property while you wait for your house to be re-built, surges? Will the insurer cover that on top of the sum insured? All of these items can be compared in our home insurance comparison.

If you don't live in an area prone to natural disaster, or you're in an apartment block, take a good look at your contents insurance because there is a lot of variance in contents cover

General savings

  • Look into bucket budgeting. It's not a new concept, but it's tried and tested. The idea is to allocate and siphon off certain percentages of funds for every day needs, and into longer term savings. A 60:20:20 split is one way to do it. So 60% of your income goes to things we need like housing, food, fuel, transport and bills. Then 20% can go towards discretionary spending, AKA your wants (the fun stuff!). And then try to put 10 to 20% of your income into savings. The important thing is to separate your everyday spending from your savings. 
  • Find a high-interest savings account that has low fees, and set up an automated transfer so that 10 to 20% of your income goes straight to your savings account each time you get paid. 
  • Think about what you owe in terms of 'good debt' and 'bad debt'. Good debt enhances your wellbeing over time – things like a mortgage, or student loan (as long as you can pay them off sustainably). Bad debts are those that are hard to pay back and don't enhance your financial wellbeing – things like personal loans or credit cards. It's up to you how you then prioritise what to tackle first. Perhaps the debt with the highest interest rate, or maybe the smaller debts so you feel like you're accomplishing something. 
  • If you want some help with a financial strategy, speaking to a financial counsellor is a great way to go. Financial counsellors can help you work through your issues with debt. You can get in touch with a financial counsellor through your bank, or on the National Debt Helpline (1800 007 007). 
  • The ASIC MoneySmart website has lots of tools and calculators to help you get your finances on track. It's all free and is government run, so it's not trying to sell you anything. The simple money manager tool is a great way to get a detailed snapshot of your spending patterns. 
  • If you're trying to save or budget, you could try using cash. First, it's easier to keep track of your spending – especially if you withdraw a set amount at the start of the week, knowing that's your target weekly budget. Second, using cash concentrates your mind on whether you really need something or not. Tapping a card is effortless and can almost make things feel 'free'. Using cash leaves you in no doubt of the money you're spending. 
We care about accuracy. See something that's not quite right in this article? Let us know or read more about fact-checking at CHOICE.