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10 ways to survive the long January money scarcity

It’s not easy to save at the best of times – and it’s even tougher if you’re prone to some last-minute spending. None of us want to miss out on that party invite or weekend away. Now you won’t have to.

Use booking websites to find restaurants with special offers such as freebies, set menus and reduced rates. Photograph: Sergio Marcos/Stocksy United

You’ve heard it a million times: the secret to staying on budget is to plan ahead. But, for many of us, that’s easier said than done. We work so hard that we don’t have time to organise things far in advance, nor are we able to devote as much energy to our finances as we should. But, also, it’s simply a lot of fun to be spontaneous and make the most of opportunities that come up.

For that reason, it isn’t always easy to stick rigidly to a budget. Last-minute expenses, invitations for weekends away, or celebrations with friends and family can often come up unexpectedly. But if you’re canny with it, you can be spontaneous without going overboard. So here are 10 smart ways to spend that even the busiest person can stick to.

Many cinemas have special deals and cheaper tickets at certain times. Photograph: Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

Eat out smart
When a friend suggests lunch or an evening meal on the town that you hadn’t planned for, you don’t have to miss out. Using restaurant-booking websites, you can find restaurants near to you that have special offers such as free prosecco, two- or three-course meals, or afternoon tea at reduced rates.

Get rewarded for spending
One great way to earn back some of your spending money is to use a cashback credit card. If you choose one that doesn’t have a limit on the amount of cashback you could earn – such as the American Express Platinum Cashback Everyday Credit Card – you’ll be paid back a proportion of your spending as cashback. The more you spend, the greater the reward, meaning that if you use your credit card for everyday spending as well as big-ticket items, you can reap the rewards in cashback. (See Important information panel.)

Set aside extra cash each month for last-minute social commitments 
If you know you’re liable to go big on going out, or you regularly need to find extra cash for last-minute social occasions, add a contingency to your budget so you don’t end up short at the end of the month. If you don’t use it one month, you can carry it forward towards a bigger item later. Make sure you’ve set aside enough to cover all your regular and necessary expenses such as rent or mortgage and utility bills before you calculate your spending money.

Buy an annual pass
Some museum and gallery exhibitions charge a comparatively high fee for a one-off ticket, but offer annual passes for the cost of two or three visits. These memberships often also include free guest or child passes, so if it is somewhere you’ll visit regularly, you can save a lot of money over the course of a year. Ask whether they have an introductory rate for new members.

Use an app
There are lots of money apps you can use to alert you if your spending is higher than you’d like. Different apps provide different services, from providing smart insights on your spending and showing an overview of your finances, to alerting you to where you could reduce unnecessary expenses. Be specific with your needs when you look for the app for you, and always read customer reviews to see how others have benefitted.

Make the most of retailers’ loyalty cards
Many stores and supermarkets give points on shopping that can be used as part payment in-store or exchanged for vouchers and money off. Often, the deals available are more generous than the face value of the points if you decide to convert them into meal vouchers or money off on days out.

Enjoy the big screen
There are plenty of ways to go to the cinema for less. Some have deals on certain days and secret blockbuster screenings at reduced rates. Afternoon showings and Sunday mornings are often cheaper, too.

Get your culture on the cheap
If the theatre is more your thing, you can turn up at the box office a few hours before a performance and ask for reduced seats. Some websites list popular shows for £25 per person or less. Many theatres set aside a number of cheaper tickets for under-25s, over-60s and students of all ages, too.

Be flexible about your thrills
While many theme parks and attractions offer the cheapest price for advance tickets, some online bookings are valid for three months to a year from the date of purchase. So if you fancy an adrenaline rush, or a fun day out for the kids, you can pre-book and then decide later when you want to go. It’s particularly useful if you want to combine your trip with a favourable weather forecast.

Last-minute getaways
Whether it’s a holiday cottage by the sea, a winter sojourn in the sun, or a weekend city break, leaving it to the last minute to book can bag you a bargain. Lots of travel sites use dynamic pricing, which means that what you pay will change in response to supply and demand. If you are flexible enough to have your suitcase packed and ready to head off within 24 hours, you can snap up some incredible deals. Hotels would rather fill a room than leave it empty, and might even throw in dinner to encourage you to stay. Being spontaneous can be wonderful.

Important information

Applicants must be UK residents, aged 18 years or older. Approval subject to status. Terms and exclusions apply to earning cashback. See for more information. 5% cashback on your purchases made in the first 3 months up to £100. Cardmembership begins from Card approval.

Introductory offers are not available to anyone who currently holds or has held any other American Express personal Card in the past 24 months. Cashback will be payable at a rate of 0.5% on spend up to £5,000; 1% on spend more than £5,000. There is a minimum annual spend of £3,000 to receive cashback. Cashback is not earned on non-purchase transactions.

American Express Services Europe Limited has its registered office at Belgrave House, 76 Buckingham Palace Road, London, SW1W 9AX, UK. It is registered in England and Wales with company number 1833139 and authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.

This content is sponsored by American Express

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