Austerity is biting.
Inflation may be edging down, but living costs are rising and pay freezes mean that family budgets are being increasingly squeezed.
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The rising price of energy and food in particular means that a typical UK household would need to spend an extra £1243 a year to maintain their standard of living from a year ago, according to calculations by MGM Advantage.
It makes sense for everyone, therefore, to scrutinise their financial situation very carefully to see if there are ways in which they can make savings or generate some extra income. There may be cutbacks you can make to your expenditure to free up your existing income and give your finances a short-term boost, or longer-term measures to boost your earnings on a more permanent basis, such as gaining an extra qualification.
Studying may provide a more satisfying and potentially longer-term way of increasing your earnings. You can study for these alongside your existing job. The Open University, for example, offers distance learning courses for qualifications such as an MBA (Master of Business Administration).
Although an increased salary is not guaranteed, according to the Open University in Scotland the average salary increase is 40% following the completion of an MBA course. The OU survey of 1391 former students, asking them what their pre-MBA and post-MBA earnings were, indicated that the qualification can open up opportunities for progression and promotion within an organisation.
However, there will be upfront college fees to pay unless your employer can be persuaded to sponsor you. Many large companies do sponsor employees, although this type of sponsorship has decreased during the recession.
Alternatively, the Open University offers a student budget account for those who are self-funding. It enables students to pay their fees in instalments and on a module by module basis throughout the course of their studies. Around one-third of OU students use this facility. There is a charge for spreading payments like this but it is a competitive 5.1%, which is less than most commercial loans. If you have generous friends and relatives, the OU also offers gift vouchers, valid for three years, which can be redeemed towards the cost of fees.
There are other ways of increasing your income which could involve a bit less work. You could try to make money out of your own home by registering it as a prospective film or TV location through agencies such as www.scottishscreenlocations.com or www.edinfilm.com, though there is no guarantee that it will be used.
For a more regular source of extra income you could also consider taking in a lodger if you have a spare room. Under the "Rent-a-Room" scheme you are allowed to receive rental income of up to £4250 per year free of tax. But if you do go down this route, make sure to draw up a written agreement on payment terms, notice periods and conduct prior to a lodger moving in so that it is a business-like arrangement. Also remember to check with your household insurer, as failure to let your insurer know that you have a lodger could potentially invalidate a future claim.
Karen Beggs, 43, from Dalkeith, sees an extra qualification as a good way of creating greater opportunities and a potentially higher salary in the future. She is currently studying for an MBA with the Open University. Beggs explains: "Initially I was thinking of doing a PhD in organisational psychology but when I was investigating the possibilities I kept coming across MBAs and realised it would provide me with a much broader qualification and it also seemed much more applicable to the job I am doing now." Fortunately, her employer, NHS Education for Scotland, supports the education of its own staff. It has paid towards her course fees and given her a loan for the remainder which she repays monthly. She says: "It is a lot of work but the materials are very well written. I'm hoping to finish in just over a year's time."
Webinars are being hosted by the Open University, starting on March 15 and running until May, giving potential students an opportunity to hear from and speak with the associate dean of OUBS, director of MBA, Masters programme manager and other MBA lecturers.
Go to the Open University Business School website for more information.