How to motivate yourself to lose weight and find the motivation to get fit

Renee Zellweger in Bridget Jones's DiaryLoosing weight is tough, but rewarding

Getting motivated to start a diet and exercising can often be the hardest part of the diet. But fear not because help is at hand.

We spoke to Anthony Healy, a personal trainer at Vivacia, about why motivation is so important for successfully loosing weight,

“Weight loss is anything but easy.

The reason Katie Hopkins was so successful in her recent weight loss TV show is because she is so incredibly motivated! Her entire identity, TV persona, and livelihood is wrapped up in its success. Failure is simply not an option!”

So how do you muster that motivation?

Here are Anthony’s top tips on how to motivate yourself to lose weight:

1. Decide why you want to lose weight

Is is to look good in a bikini, to feel better about yourself or another reason?

2. Set goals

‘Lose weight’ is too vague. You need a clear and achievable goal, such as ‘lose 10lb in 10 weeks’. Write down how you’re going to achieve this, such as ‘run three times a week’ or ‘go to the gym every Monday, Wednesday and Friday’ and STICK TO IT.

2. Create visual goals

Visual cues are a great motivator. If you want to look good on the beach in a size 10 bikini then buy that bikini (or dress for special occasion/favorite pair of jeans) and hang it outside your wardrobe.

3. Write a morning mantra

Write and then read a motivational mantra every day. Make the goal seem like something that has already having been achieved,

E.g. “I have successfully lost 10lbs, and I am about to board the plane for Spain at Heathrow airport. I can’t wait to get to the beach in my yellow bikini….”

By doing so you get the good feelings associated with the goal ahead of time.

4. Kick the bad habits

Long term transformations take time.

To get quick results and keep the weight off you need to kick bad habits.

In the beginning you need to go cold turkey. For many people the enemy is booze, processed food and/or sugar in all its forms – most obviously, chocolate and sweets.

Giving these up for at least 6-12 weeks “breaks the back” of the usual suspects, forms some good eating habits, and brings about those quick results – which will keep you motivated and “hungry” for more success.

5. Think positive

With sufficient motivation anything is achievable, and those obstacles can now be overcome.

More tips on getting your weight loss started!

Carry a mirror

In order to eat healthily, it’s really important to watch your portion sizes. To help you do this, carry a mirror everywhere you go, ensuring you remind yourself of how fat you are, which will automatically motivate you to eat less.

Be your own weight loss whip

This may sound odd, but you need to give yourself some tough love. Motivating yourself is not just about carrot, it’s also about stick – you need to whip yourself into controlling your eating. Without control, it’s too easy to get carried away bingeing on treats and then swilling them down with booze.

Ditch the fat feeding excuse

GettyWoman choosing between a hamburger plate and a salad plate

Year after year, many people say, “Oh I’ve put so much weight on over Christmas, I may as well eat what I want.”This is just an excuse. Stop making them. Always remind yourself to stop eating when you feel full, and then take your mind into something non-food related.

Keep food hidden

Or don’t buy it at all. Out of sight will mean out of mind. You won’t be able to resist if you have chocolates and biscuits lying around the house.

Ditch diets

The first and immediate step is never ditch junk food all together. Instead, live each day eating healthily 80 per cent of the time and eating some junk for 20 per cent of the time.
This way you’ll ensure you don’t deny yourself, which can lead to bingeing.

Steer clear of conflict

GettyTwo young female business associates yelling at each other

After the stresses of the holidays, new year can be the time of year when we rub each other up the wrong way and end up having a number of verbal brawls. Steer clear of them, otherwise you will probably end up comfort eating. Bite your tongue and walk away as soon as you sense you are about to throw a verbal bullet

Carry a warning sign

Make yourself a credit card size warning sign that reads, “If you are fat THINK before eating.” Look at it before you eat to help you control what you consume, and how much. The truth hurts, but the truth is the truth.

Try on the frock

GettyWoman putting on retro dress

Just before you sit down to eat at home, pop to the bedroom and try on that dress you are desperate to fit into. Let it motivate you to control your food intake.

How to make simple and easy cookies with your kids at home from scratch

Chocolate chip cookies
Chocolate chip cookies

Everyone needs a simple and easy cookie recipe up their sleeve for when the children are off school.

Whatever your favourite flavour is a basic cookie batch recipe is a must.

Do you really need a how to guide to the straight-forward baked good? Probably not, but it’s great reason for us to whip up our favourite treat.

Everyone makes the yummy guilty pleasure a little differently, but here’s our recipe – with our tips and tricks.

Let us know how you make your cookies too in the comments.

This recipe makes about 40 cookies, cut the quantities for less.

SquidgesFollow the recipe for a big batch
Follow the recipe for a big batch


3/4 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup salted butter, very soft

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon table salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips


Large bowl for mixing

Mixing spoon

measuring cup

Measuring spoon

Baking sheet

Cooling rack

Tip: If you don’t have a cooling rack take the grill rack from the oven and use that.

Trick: If you don’t have a measuring spoon or cup use a mug, this roughly works out as 100ml. Work out the ratio of ingredients (1 cup – 100g) and use that to measure.

How to make them

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

2. Spray tray with non-stick or use greaseproof paper.

3. Mix the sugar (both) together. Break any hard bits and chunks.

4. Mix softened butter into the sugar.

GettyMake sure you soften the butter first
Make sure you soften the butter first

Tip: If you need to soften the butter, put it in a microwaveable bowl and just warm it for about 10seconds at a time until soft but not liquid.

5. Mix your eggs in one at a time into the bowl with the sugar-butter mix.

6. Use the spoon to beat the eggs – lightly – before stirring them into butter and sugar.

7. Mix the vanilla, salt and baking soda. Mix the batter all together. Make sure there are no clumps.

GettyCornflourAdd your flour in
Add your flour in

8. Add the flour all together, don’t mix too much but make sure there’s no dry flour.

Tip: You can use your hands to mix and it makes them a bit denser

9. You should have a dough now (technically this is when you add your flavouring – so chocolate chips, etc – make sure you fold them in and don’t mix)

10. Use a tablespoon to get a scoop of batter and place this on to the baking sheet. Keep doing this until the dough is all gone. Think ping-pong ball size.

Facebook/When In ArizonaMake sure there's gaps between them on the tray

11. Make sure there are gaps between each dollop on the tray. You can either flatten them with a fork – this leaves a nice mark.

12. Bake! Keep them in for about 12minutes – check them though as they can be done in 9minutes.

13. Let them cool and settle before putting them on the rack.

Tip: If you’re oven isn’t big enough cook them in batches.

Tip: You can also freeze the dough and use it later. It will make the sugar taste more like caramel.

Trick: You can keep the mixture for a few months.

Mum reveals the amazing trick she used to shed FOUR dress sizes and more than 5 stone

Adele Johnson who lost weight with the help of cling-film
Adele Johnson has shed four dress sizes with this one simple trick

The children’s slide at the soft play centre was not for adults, but when Adele Johnson’s five-year-old son Pete begged her to join him on it she couldn’t say no.

But as the plastic creaked beneath her 18st 3lb bulk , Adele panicked, fearing the slide could collapse at any second.

She got down, bottom squeezed tight by the slide, but when Pete excitedly begged her to go again, she finally accepted her weight was a problem.

“The creak I heard as we came down the slide was such a shock,” says Adele.

“It was a big slide so the fact I had come close to breaking it made me take a step back and realise I needed to take action.”

Daily MirrorAdele Johnson who lost weight with the help of cling-film
Adele’s son Pete could not be prouder of his mum

The married mum of one, from St Austell, Cornwall, said she was in denial about her weight for several years.

“I’m an emotional eater and it got worse once Pete started at school as I would just eat because I had nothing else to do,” says Adele, 37.

“I also ate more when I was sad or mad as I thought it would make me feel better.

“But I would feel worse about myself and then eat more. It was a terrible cycle.”

While Pete ate healthy fresh food , stay-at-home mum Adele would snack on chocolate biscuits and crisps, and fill herself up with big plates of pasta. In the evenings she would gorge on takeaways .

“I knew it was bad but I just got into bad habits,” she says.

Daily MirrorAdele Johnson who lost weight with the help of cling-film
Adele Johnson who lost weight with the help of cling-film

After nearly breaking the slide Adele knew she had to shed the pounds for her son. “He was so upset as I refused to go on the slide again,” she says.

“So I promised myself I would lose enough weight to get back on it safely for his sixth birthday in March.

“I had eight months, and his happiness was all the motivation I needed.”

At size 22, 5ft 3ins Adele was too self-conscious to go to the gym. So in August last year she splashed out £450 on a treadmill for her living room.

“I would use it at home in my spare time,” says Adele.

“I went on it three times a day – before the school run, and then two more times during the day.

“I would switch the TV on and watch while I was walking to make the time go quicker.”

It was during one of these workouts that she saw a reality TV programme where women were going to beauty salons and paying for expensive “inch-loss wraps”.

“It was one of the programmes where the women are rich and money is no object, and they would go to beauty salons where they were wrapped in clingfilm for an hour and would lose an inch off their waists and thighs.

Daily MirrorAdele Johnson who lost weight with the help of cling-film
Adele is now happy to go on the slide with her son Pete

“I thought it looked like a great idea but there was no way I could justify spending that amount of money.

“I realised I could try a cheaper alternative by putting clingfilm around my problem areas when I worked out.

“I knew it was crazy but I wanted to give it a go and see if it would help me sweat more out, and there was no harm in that.”

Adele bulk-bought clingfilm from the supermarket and started wrapping it around her belly before workouts, hoping it would increase the fat reduction on her stomach area.

“That was my target area as my son had always innocently joked about my ‘jelly baby belly’ – because my tummy was so flabby it wriggled,” says Adele. “He’d also call me a sausage roll.

“I started wrapping at least 10 layers around my middle and then walking on the treadmill for an hour at a time.

“I definitely sweated more and that kept me motivated to keep going – it was like I could feel the fat melting off.”

Soon she was also ­wrapping her belly in clingfilm before leaving the house for the school run and to go shopping.

“It was great to be able to burn off extra calories doing everyday things and with people around me being none the wiser,” she laughs.

Adele also revamped her diet and started eating healthier to compliment her new regime – which had been so successful she managed to shed more than five stone in eight months.

Daily MirrorAdele Johnson who lost weight with the help of cling-film
Adele shows just how far she has come as she holds up a pair of her old trousers

“I stopped all the junk food and focused on protein and vegetables instead, like fish and vegetables,” Adele says.

“I started getting on the treadmill when I was bored instead of eating rubbish and I felt so much better for it.

“I never really drank water at all before, but because I was sweating so much I felt quite dehydrated so I needed to make sure that I was taking enough on.

“Now I drink a glass at least every hour or so.”

As the weight fell , Adele’s motivation was boosted.

And when Pete was able to reach his arms around her waist for a hug she finally felt excited about the prospect of going back down the slide with him.

“He was delighted he could give me a proper hug and that was when I realised how far I had come,” she says.

When Pete’s sixth birthday arrived in March, Adele threw a party for him at the soft play area where her weight-loss journey began.

“In the eight months since nearly breaking the slide I had lost five stone and made it down to a size 14,” she says.

“It felt amazing to get back on the slide and just enjoy it without worrying I was going to bring it all down around me.

“Pete was dressed as Captain Marvel for the party. He was so excited that I was going down the slide with him.

FLASHFOTOAdele Johnson who lost weight with the help of cling-film
Adele looks stunning after changing her diet and exercising with clingfilm

“As the weight had been coming off I had been starting to be able to do more and more activities with him and this was the final thing ticked off the list.

“I feel like a new woman and I’m so happy to be able to be the fun mum my son has longed for.”

Adele is continuing with her clingfilm workouts, although she’s now eased off to walking six to eight kilometres five times a week instead of the 12km sessions she had been doing.

On average, she uses up a roll of clingfilm a day. And she says the cost is a snip compared to the expense of having regular professional inch-loss wraps that can cost hundreds of pounds.

Adele says: “My plan was never to be skinny, and I’ll be happy when I get to size 12, but I want to take it slowly as I think that’s the best way to keep the weight off long-term.

“Until then I’ll keep doing what I’m doing – but clingfilm will never be the same in our house again!”

Fat File

  • Adele’s weight before: 18st 3lbs
  • Dress siz: 22
  • Adele’s weight now: 12st 9lb
  • Dress size: 14

Diet before

  • Breakfast: Nothing
  • Lunch: Big plate of pasta and sauce
  • Dinner: Large fish and chips or Chinese takeaway, pizza or burger
    and chips
  • Snacks: Bacon sandwich, chocolate biscuits, crisps

Diet now

  • Breakfast: Lemon water, cereal with skimmed milk
  • Lunch: Egg and tomato sandwich
  • Dinner: Glass of water followed by salmon or chicken and vegetables
  • Snacks: banana or orange, water

Gran sheds HALF her body weight and has size G breast implants for glamour model body dream

Natalie King
Natalie King’s transformation is amazing and she now has the glamour model body she always wanted

A 25-stone grandma who had six kids claims she has finally got the glamour model body she always dreamed of after losing more than HALF her bodyweight and having size G breast implants.

Natalie King, 47, always dreamed of becoming a pinup and even posed for London agencies in her late teens, but the stay-at-home mum, from Penzance, Cornwall, fellpregnant at the age of 18 and put her modelling dreams aside to raise her family.

With each pregnancy Natalie gained more weight until eventually she reached more than 25 stone and a size 30 – leaving her suffering with anxiety that left her virtually housebound.

But after deciding to overhaul her unhealthy lifestyle, Natalie has shed 13 stone, dyed her hair bleach blonde and invested in breast implants to finish off her glamorous new look.

Mercury PressNatalie King
Natalie King when she weighed 25 stone

The grandmother-of-three revealed how she had grave fears for her health when doctors warned her she had a fatty liver and she was at high risk of having a stroke .

With the help of her husband Roy, a commercial vehicle body builder, Natalie was encouraged to join Slimming World and has dropped from a size 30 to a slender size 12-14.

After Natalie reached her weight loss target of 12 and a half stone, Roy offered to pay for a breast enlargement to boost her confidence, and Natalie now says she now has the body she always dreamed of.

Natalie said: “I feel like a different person. Before my weight loss I was a size 28-30 and I was depressed.

“I didn’t go out, I wouldn’t go out of the car. I just wanted to hide because I felt as though people were looking at me.

Mercury PressNatalie King
Natalie has shed half her body weight and had size G breast implants

“I started suffering from anxiety about 15 years ago – it all started because of my weight.

“I wouldn’t get out of the car at the school gates and I’d never been to a school play until last year.

“The children’s faces lit up when they saw me, their eyes went big and they started showing off. It was amazing.

“When I was younger I did glamour modelling for around 12 months. It was more of a hobby than anything but I really enjoyed it.

“I went to London agencies for photo shoots and they wanted to take me on, but then I had my eldest daughter and gave it up.”

Natalie eventually had six children: Kelly, 28, Nick, 26, Craig, 23, Sophia, 17, Isabelle, nine, and Jacob, six, and gained more weight with every pregnancy.

Mercury PressNatalie King
Natalie is delighted with her new look after she battled anxiety because of her weight

Natalie said: “Before I started Slimming World I used to eat takeaways all of the time.

“I was just getting bigger and bigger. I used to eat six donuts a day as well as chocolate, crisps and a takeaway every night.

“I would get Chinese, chippy, KFC – I would spend around £100 a week on takeaways.

“I started getting a pain in my side and the doctor told me I had a fatty liver and a gallstone.

“I was at risk of having a stroke I also started suffering from arthritis in my knees as a result of my weight. I wanted to be healthy for my children.

Mercury PressNatalie King
Natalie has swapped her love of junk food and takeaways for Slimming World

“My husband loved me the way I was but I was so unhappy. I had a fear of going on the beach because I was so scared of getting out of breath and getting stuck – I didn’t go on one for 20 years.

“I really wanted to join a slimming club but I was too nervous, so my husband came to the classes with me and supported me through my entire journey. I couldn’t have done it without him.

“I now eat a bacon and egg sandwich in the morning and meat and vegetables for dinner.

“I eat loads of satsumas , strawberries and melon. My children always tell me how proud they are.”

When Natalie reached her target of 12 and a half stone in June, Roy offered to pay for a breast enlargement.

Mercury PressNatalie King
Natalie was supported through her weight loss journey by her husband, who even came to classes with her

Natalie said: “I decided to have my breasts done because I wanted to start making the most of myself again. I went up to a G cup and I am really happy with them.

“I spent years not wearing any makeup because I didn’t think it could make me look any better.

“My hair was always greasy and scraped up in a ponytail, I didn’t care what clothes I wore as long as they fitted.

“Now I’ve got my body back I want to start making the most of myself again.

“I would love to try modelling again now I’ve got my confidence back. I don’t have to hide away anymore.

“Roy even took some professional photos of me recently and I felt the same way I did when I was younger and I tried glamour modelling. I finally feel like the old me again.”

How to have a GUILT-FREE takeaway – and one that could even improve your health

Takeaway burger
You can still eat your favourite takeaway without any of the guilt

Everyone has their favourite takeaway – be it pizza, Indian, Chinese or fish and chips.

And these dishes all have one thing in common – they can give us that dreaded guilt when we realise we’ve consumed a truckload of artery-hardening calories.

However, all that can change. ­Registered nutritional therapist Jackie Lynch, author of The Right Bite (£6.99, Nourish Books), has revealed how we can have a bit of what we fancy – without harming our health.

“ Fast food needs to be treated with caution if you want to keep things healthy,” she says.

“It tends to be high in sugar and refined carbohydrates that cause weight gain, trans fats that are bad for your heart, and salt that can push up your blood pressure.

GettyTakeaway pizza
Takeaways can be high in both fat and sugar

“But carefully chosen takeaways can actually contain some surprising health benefits.”

Here, Jackie guides us on what the smart choices for a healthy takeaway:


A large burger, medium fries and cola can add up to almost 1,000 calories

A large burger, medium fries and cola adds up to almost 1,000 calories, says Jackie, which is half the daily recommended allowance for women.

“Your average burger contains up to 3g of salt – half the recommended daily allowance in one meal,” she says.

“Some of the chicken or fish burgers are leaner, with the saturated fat content being five times lower.”

Jackie suggests having a ‘naked’ burger without a bun, since the average burger bun has roughly two teaspoons of added sugar.

“Or at least choose a basic hamburger over a cheeseburger. It contains far less sugar, saturated fat and calories.

“Keep fries to a minimum – a large portion adds up to 439 calories – small fries are 230 calories a portion.”


Pizza Hut have brought out a new Bacon Stuffed Crust pizza
Three slices of pepperoni pizza can equal more than 900 calories

Three slices of deep pan pepperoni pizza equals over 900 calories. It’s also full of starch, fat and salt.

“Toppings such as processed meat need to be treated with caution – just three slices of pepperoni spicy sausage exceeds the recommended limit for salt,” says Jackie.

“Instead, a thin crust vegetarian pizza is likely to be lower in saturated fat and salt than a meaty deep pan.

“Adding peppers, mushrooms, onions or spinach can boost fibre content to help neutralise excess sugar in the base, plus it adds healthy antioxidants, B vitamins and magnesium to support immune ­function and increase energy levels.”


GettyWoman eats chicken
Just four pieces of fried chicken in a variety box add up to almost 900 calories

Just four pieces of fried chicken in a variety box add up to almost 900 ­calories and could take you up to the maximum daily recommended amount of saturated fat (20g) in one meal, warns Jackie.

“Eating lots of deep-fried food is ­associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases such as atherosclerosis, which is fatty deposits in the arteries,” she says.

“Ideally, the chicken shouldn’t be fried. Some outlets offer a grilled version, which can knock off around 100 calories from breast or thighs and around 50 calories from drumsticks and wings. It also halves the saturated fat content.

“Otherwise try opting for more of the lower-calorie drumsticks and wings, and fewer breasts and thighs.”

Jackie says a typical fried ­drumstick has 137 calories and 2g of saturated fat as opposed to a fried thigh which has
295 calories and 5g of
saturated fat.

Stripping off some of the batter and just eating the chicken will also limit the damage, too.


GettyTakeaway fish and chips
It’s all about size with takeaway fish and chips

It’s all about the size and proportions with this old favourite: more fish and fewer chips will make a significant difference to the fat and carbohydrate content of the meal.

“More fish means you make the most of all the beneficial nutrients,” says Jackie.

“Fish is a great source of lean protein, B vitamins and iron. Chips are empty calories.

“Mushy peas are a good addition as they’re almost fat-free and a good source of protein. But lose the curry sauce – a generous serving can be
150 calories.”


Indian Takeaway
Indian food can actually be really healthy

With its lean, spicy meat or fish and a range of ­vegetables and spices such as garlic, ginger and turmeric which support digestion and have ­antibacterial properties, Indian food can be really healthy.

But many dishes commonly found on an Indian takeaway menu include creamy, sugary sauces that are a far cry from what you’d find in India, says Jackie.

“A tomato-based dish such as rogan josh is a good option as it contains less than half the ­saturated fat of a korma and far fewer calories at 435 compared to 605,” she says.

Jackie advises trying a ­vegetable side dish instead of rice or bread. Potato dishes such as sag aloo (with spinach) or aloo gobi (with ­cauliflower) are a good way to include starch without heaping on the rice – and spinach and cauliflower contain immune-boosting antioxidants.

Her other tip is to prepare your own brown rice at home. It contains eight times as much fibre as white rice.


GettyChinese takeaway
Beware of anything with the word ‘crispy’ in a Chinese takeaway

The danger word on a Chinese menu is ‘crispy’, warns Jackie.

“Anything that’s crispy is likely to be battered and deep fried which sends the fat and calories soaring,” she says.

“Choosing a chop suey or similar stir-fried dish is your best bet.

“You’ll get all the health benefits from the ginger and garlic-based sauces while keeping the calories and fat down.”

Jackie explains that a 350g serving of chicken chop suey has 397 calories and 3g of saturated fat as opposed to 507 calories and 47g saturated fat in four sweet and sour pork balls.

Again, ordering a vegetable side dish is better than rice.

£40 gift card when you secure an M&S loan

Secure an M&S personal loan via MoneySuperMarket and you’ll receive a £40 gift card.

If you’re in the market for a personal loan, perhaps to fund some home improvements or buy a new car, take a look at this offer from MoneySuperMarket and M&S Bank.

The basics

Anyone successfully applying for a personal loan with M&S Bank via MoneySuperMarket or MoneySavingExpert before December 4 will receive a £40 M&S gift card. T&Cs apply.

To qualify for your gift card, your loan application must first be accepted, and you’ll need to have made your first loan repayment before May 31, 2016.

Once you’ve made your first repayment, your gift card will be sent out within 60 days, and no later than June 17, 2016.

This offer applies across all M&S loans.

Is this for you?

If you’re a keen M&S shopper, the £40 gift card offer is likely to be an attractive incentive.

But ultimately, whether this offer is right for you will depend on how much you need to borrow.

If you’re looking for a medium sized loan of between £7,500 and £15,000, M&S Bank offers one of the most competitive rates at 3.5% APR representative, repaid over one to seven years.

The only bank to beat this rate is Sainsbury’s Bank, which offers 3.4% APR representative on the same borrowing size. However, this must be repaid over a shorter period of one to three years and you’ll need a Nectar card to qualify (although you can easily register for a card online or in Sainsbury’s stores).

If you don’t have a Nectar card, or need to repay your loan over three to five years, the rate rises to 3.5% APR representative – the same rate offered by M&S Bank.

M&S also offers a competitive 4.5% APR representative on sums of between £5,000 and £7,499, repaid over one to seven years.

But be aware this rate can be beaten by Clydesdale Bank’s 4.3% APR representative on borrowing of the same size, repaid over a slightly shorter one to five years. Meanwhile, if you’re looking to borrow more than £15,000, M&S’ loan rates are not so competitive, so you’ll be better off looking elsewhere.

For example, on borrowing of between £15,001 and £25,000, repaid over one to five years, you’ll pay a fairly hefty 6.8% APR representative with M&S (or 6.7% APR representative if you’re an existing M&S Bank customer).

In comparison, both Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank (which are part of the same group) offer a rate of 3.7% APR representative on borrowing of the same size, repaid over one to five years.

What makes it special?

If you’re looking to borrow between £7,500 and £15,000, M&S Bank offers a competitive deal.

And the £40 gift card is an added bonus.

Watch out for

As mentioned, to qualify for the £40 gift card you must apply for your M&S loan through MoneySuperMarket or MoneySavingExpert by December 4.

And although M&S offers one of the top loan rates for sums of between £7,500 and £15,000, remember that for borrowing of less than £7,500 and, in particular, more than £15,000, better rates are available from other lenders.

Bear in mind too that the best rates are reserved for those with a top-notch credit rating. If you haven’t checked your credit file for a while, head over to our credit monitoring channel.

It is also worth using our Smart Search tool which will show you how likely you are to be accepted for certain loans, without leaving a mark on your credit file.

What else is worth a look?

If you’re looking to borrow a fairly small sum of money, it could be cheaper to use a 0% purchase credit card instead.

The Post Office Matched credit card, for example, offers 0% on purchases for 27 months, so long as you spend on your card within the first three months.

This means you can spread the cost of your borrowing over more than two years, without worrying about interest stacking up.

Just be sure to clear your balance before the 27 months are up, as the rate is then 18.9% APR (variable)*.

You can read more about the card here.

*Representative Example: If you spend £1,200 at a purchase interest rate of 18.9% p.a. (variable) your representative rate will be 18.9% APR (variable).

All credit cards and loans are subject to status and terms and conditions. Over 18s, UK residents only. Terms and conditions apply. See for further information.

The 5 worst ways to pay for Xmas

crumpled wrapping paper under a christmas tree

But when it comes to your method of payment, don’t make a rod for your own back! Here are the top five worst ways you can pay for this year’s shopping – as well as some better alternatives.

1. Payday loans

Top of the blacklist when it comes to how to pay for Christmas, is a payday loan.

With annual percentage rates (APRs) as high as 1,509%, these deals are the most expensive way to borrow money you can find. This means they should only be used as a last resort in the event of an emergency – NEVER for your Christmas shopping!

2. Store cards

Next is the dreaded store card – and, beware as right now is the time of year that retailers really start to push these deals. When you go to pay for an item, you’ll no doubt be told you could save 10% on your purchase today and enjoy other benefits – just by opening a store card.

Store card holders at Topshop for example, will get a £5 off voucher for spending £50 or more, a 15% off voucher in the first statement to use on £80 worth of spend, an extra 10%  off in-store during the first week of the Christmas and summer sales – and even a birthday treat.

All very tempting – but not only can store cards encourage you to spend more than you otherwise would, if you don’t manage them properly you’ll be whacked with incredibly high interest rates.

Topshop for example, charges a representative rate of 19.9% APR (variable), while the Burton store card charges a representative rate of 29.9% APR (representative) and New Look’s store card charges a representative rate of 28.9% APR (variable).

If you fail to clear your balance each month the interest you pay will far outweigh any savings you’ve made. So if there’s even the smallest risk of this happening, avoid store cards like the plague.

3. The wrong credit card

Using a credit card to pay for your Christmas shopping can actually be sensible option – but only if you use the right one.

Using the wrong plastic could see you paying a lot more for your shopping than what it says on the price tag.

If you are unable to clear your balance each month, for example, you should always use a credit card with a 0% purchase window, otherwise you’ll end up being hit with interest.

The Post Office Matched credit card, for example, offers 0% on purchases for 27 months, so long as you spend on the card within the first three months. If you don’t, you’ll be offered 0% for 16 months.

After the 0% introductory offer is up, you’ll pay a representative rate of 18.9% APR (variable)*, so be sure to clear your balance before then.

4. The wrong overdraft

You might be resigned to dipping into your overdraft to cover the cost of Christmas – but at least make sure it doesn’t charge you interest or fees.

For example, the Nationwide FlexDirect current account offers a 12-month fee-free overdraft – perfect to cover your Christmas shopping. Just be aware that after 12 months, you’ll pay 50p a day on arranged overdrafts over £10 (the first £10 of your overdraft is free), so be sure to get back into the black before then.

Alternatively, the First Direct 1st Account offers a £250 interest-free overdraft. You’ll be charged 15.9% EAR (variable) on arranged overdrafts above this.

You’ll also receive £100 for switching to the First Direct account, so long as you pay in at least £1,000 within the first three months.

You’ll need to pay £1,000 or more into the account each month or have another product with the bank, such as a savings account, to avoid a £10 monthly fee.

Find out more about the best overdrafts to use here.

5. Some savings pots

As a rule, dipping into your savings to pay for Christmas is always better than getting in to debt, but there are some savings accounts which should ideally be left alone – primarily cash ISAs and fixed rate bonds.

In this tax year, you can invest up to £15,240 into a tax-free cash ISA. However, if you withdraw any funds from your cash ISA, you can’t top it back up again – so if you’ve used the full allowance, then withdraw £1,000, you won’t be able to pay that back in this tax year. So think carefully before dipping into these kinds of funds.

Meanwhile, if you have a fixed rate bond, penalties for withdrawing money before the account matures can be extremely high – so again, this is best avoided.

Of course, if you are using savings to fund Christmas, you should still ensure you have an emergency cash cushion to fall back on.

Better ways to pay for Christmas

So now we’ve cleared up what you shouldn’t do, what should you do to fund the next month of shopping?

As already mentioned, using a 0% purchase credit card will allow you to spread the cost of your Christmas spending interest-free over a number of months. Just ensure you clear your balance before the 0% deal ends.

However, a credit card could still be handy even if you don’t need to spread the cost of your spending and can pay off your balance in full every month.

That’s because a number of credit cards allow you to earn something back on your spending – whether that’s supermarket points or cashback.

You can find out more about the best reward cards to use for your Christmas shopping in this article.

* Representative Example: If you spend £1,200 at a purchase interest rate of 18.9% p.a. (variable) your representative rate will be 18.9% APR (variable).

All overdrafts are subject to status and approval.

All credit cards are subject to status and terms and conditions. Over 18s, UK residents only. Terms and conditions apply. See for further information.

Use our Smart Search tool – and find top loans and credit cards

Use our super Smart Search tool – and find best-ever loan and credit card deals

Fierce competition among credit providers has resulted in tumbling personal loan rates and lengthier interest-free credit card offers.

But there’s a catch. To be accepted for these ever-keener deals on borrowing, you’ll need an excellent credit score.

If you don’t know the shape your credit score is in and your application is rejected, you can damage it even further. That’s why it pays to know about Smart Search – a nifty tool which is completely free to use and keeps your credit score intact.

Here we explain what Smart Search is, how to use it – and set out the raft of ever-improving deals it could help you get your hands on.

Great deals

First off, what’s been happening on borrowing?

Personal loan rates are continuing to drop, and you can now enjoy rates just above the 3% APR representative mark on borrowing between £7,500 and £15,000.

For smaller borrowing, say between £1,000 and £2,000, a 0% purchase credit card should do the trick as you won’t be charged interest during the promotional period. And the top deals at the moment offer interest-free purchases for more than two years.

If you have existing card debt that you want to shift, you’ll need a 0% balance transfer credit card – and terms have improved on these too. They now offer up to three years or more to clear your debt before interest kicks in, while transfer fees have been coming down.

Just be sure to clear your balance before the 0% window ends.

If you don’t know the shape your credit score is in and your application is rejected, you can damage it even further

Will you get accepted?

There’s nothing to stop you applying for great deals like these – but the reality is, only 51% of successful applicants need to qualify for the rates in order for providers to advertise them. That means an awful lot of people are turned down.

Using the MoneySuperMarket Smart Search tool will tell you how likely you are to be accepted for a form of credit without leaving a mark on your credit file. How Smart Search works will depend on whether you are applying for a loan or a credit card. If you’re applying for a loan follow these steps:

-From the loans homepage, click on the green ‘Find a loan’ button

-Enter details such as how much you need to borrow, how long you want to borrow it and your annual income – this will take less than two minutes

-This will trigger the credit reference agency Experian to carry out a ‘soft search’ of your credit score. BUT unlike a regular search, it won’t be visible to lenders. In fact, only you will be able to see it on your credit file

-A list of loans will spring up in a matter of seconds and tell you how likely you are to be accepted for each. Likelihood is expressed as a simple percentage on a dial and is colour-coded red, amber and green

-Results will be ordered by eligibility, so those closest to 100% (furthest into the ‘green’) will be at the top. If you prefer, you can re-order them from the lowest to highest APR

-The rest is up to you. You might decide to go for the loan with the highest chance of acceptance (90% for example), instead of a cheaper loan that you’ve a lower chance of being accepted for (say, 50%)

If you’re applying for a credit card:

-From our credit card homepage, click on the ‘Find a card’ button on our comparison tables

-Enter details such as your name, your annual income and the name of your main bank

-A list of credit cards will spring up and tell you how likely you are to be accepted for each. This is expressed as a score out of 10 and is colour-coded red, amber and green

-Results will be ordered by eligibility, so those closest to 10 will be at the top. But, if you prefer, you can change this to the longest 0% deal, for example

-Again, you can use this information to assess the benefits of the credit card versus your chances of getting it

A final word…

Smart Search is a really useful tool – but it’s only an indication of acceptance and NOT a steadfast guarantee.

We’re working hard on it, not all providers have agreed to take part in Smart Search yet. This means the list returned to you won’t feature the whole market.

But, so long as you keep this in mind, Smart Search could still help you to find the right loan or credit card, without damaging your credit score.

Paying off debt can make more sense than saving

couple looking at computer

Banks, building societies, the government of the day, our parents – there are lots of people telling us we should save money.

So it’s perhaps no surprise that we feel bad if we don’t put money aside for the future.

But does it make economic sense? Many of us would in fact be better off if we ignored the advice to save and instead paid off our debts.

Debt debate

Let’s say a family has a credit card debt of £1,000 and savings of £1,000 in an easy access account.

The interest rate on the credit card is 19%, which means the debt costs £190 a year. But the interest rate on the savings account is a mere 2% gross, so the annual savings interest is just £20 – before tax (at 20%, 40% or 45%, depending on your tax band).

In other words, the family spends more on the debt than it earns on the savings – £170 more to be precise. So, if the family used the money in the savings account to clear the debt, they would be £170 better off a year.

Tax change

Tax will take a smaller bite from our savings from April 2016, when the Personal Savings Allowance comes into force.

Basic rate taxpayers will then no longer pay tax on the first £1,000 of interest they earn from savings. For higher rate taxpayers, it’s the first £500.

But you should do the sums because you could still save money by not saving money.

The figures are particularly compelling because savings rates are currently so low. The top easy access account pays about 1.65%. Or you can earn about 1.5% in a tax-free cash individual savings account (ISA).

Interest payments

The interest rates on personal loans, credit cards and overdrafts are usually much higher. The typical credit card rate, for example, is about 19%.

In other words, it is more expensive to borrow money than to save. Anyone with savings who also has costly debts should therefore consider using at least part of their savings to help clear their debts.

It makes sense to always pay off the most expensive debts first – and watch out for any penalties.

If you have a personal loan, for example, there could be a penalty of several months’ interest if you pay off the debt before the end of the loan term. It can still make financial sense to clear the debt, but you have to factor the penalty into your calculations.

The cheapest – and biggest – debt is usually the mortgage. You should therefore only pay off, or pay down, the mortgage if you have cleared other, more costly debts. Otherwise, the same calculation applies.

So, if the mortgage interest rate is higher than the savings interest rate, you should consider cutting down the amount you owe on the home loan.

 Substantial savings

The savings can be substantial. Let’s assume you have a £100,000 repayment mortgage at 3.5% over 20 years. If you paid just £50 extra a month, you would clear the debt after 18 years and save a total of £4,700.

Penalties often apply if you clear all or some of your mortgage early, although more lenders these days allow you to pay off up to 10% of the outstanding debt each year without penalty.

Alternatively, you could consider an offset mortgage, where your savings are ‘offset’ against your borrowings.

For example, if you have a mortgage of £100,000 and savings of £10,000 you would pay mortgage interest only on £90,000. You can also usually access your savings in an emergency.

Cheap borrowing

If it’s cheaper to borrow than to save, there’s nothing to gain by paying off debts.

For example, if you have a 0% credit card, you are effectively borrowing money for free. You should therefore keep any spare cash in a savings account where it can earn interest at a higher rate.

Cash cushion

Some people are reluctant to empty their savings account because they feel exposed without a cushion of cash in case of an emergency.

Many experts also advise people to keep the equivalent of three months’ earnings in a savings account (if possible, of course).

But not everyone agrees – and some advisers argue that your emergency fund could be costing you dear.

Let’s go back to our fictitious family. Suppose they used their £1,000 savings to clear their debt, but then the car broke down. How would they pay for the repair?

Well, they could put the bill on the credit card, or possibly take out a loan or overdraft. They wouldn’t be any worse off, and would probably have already saved money on the interest payments.

Of course, if you don’t have access to credit, it’s a good idea to keep some money in a savings account in case of an emergency. You should also resist the temptation to get into a debt cycle. So, once you have paid off a debt, don’t then go on a spending spree.

Pension priority

Pensions are possibly the exception to the rule about prioritising debt clearance over saving.

First, there are generous tax breaks on pensions.

Second, your employer might contribute to a workplace pension scheme on your behalf.

Also, the earlier you start to save into a pension the better as your money has more time before your retirement in which to grow.

You should therefore only prioritise debt clearance over pension savings if the interest payments on your debt are critically high.

How to check your credit score

How to check your credit score

When you apply for any form of credit, such as a credit card, personal loan or mortgage, one of the first things a lender will do is check that your credit score is up to scratch.

Your credit score effectively shows how well you’ve managed credit in the past. The higher your score, the more likely any credit applications you make will be accepted, whereas the lower your score, the harder you’ll find it to borrow.

Ways to check your credit score

There are three main credit reference agencies, Experian, CallCredit and Equifax, all of which will have a record of your credit rating.

You can get a copy of your statutory credit file for £2 from any of these agencies. This can be done online using the following links:




You can also apply for a copy of your credit report by post.

Alternatively, there are other services which offer free access to your credit report, such asClearScore and Noddle.

Some banks and credit card providers, such as Barclaycard and Tesco Bank, also provide their customers with free access to their credit report.

Free and statutory reports will provide basic information on your credit score, but credit reference agencies also offer comprehensive ‘credit monitoring’ services for an extra charge, usually in the form of a monthly fee.

These will provide more detail information on your report and will notify you if there is any unusual activity, for example if someone is making numerous applications for credit in your name.

Experian and Equifax both offer 30-day free trials for these services, so if you don’t want to pay the monthly fee, be sure to cancel before the 30 days are up.

How your credit score is shown

Different credit reference agencies show your score in different ways.

Experian and Equifax express it as a score out of 999, while Callcredit scores you out of five.

Regardless of which numbers are used, the higher the score you get, the better your credit score is.

That means whether you score four out of five or 950 out of 999, you’ve got a very good score, whereas if your score is one or two out for five, or 200 out of 999, your score is bad.

If your score isn’t what you were expecting, make sure there aren’t any irregularities in your credit report. For example, can you spot any information that is incorrect, such as missed payments when you know you paid on time?

If you find something wrong, let the relevant company know so they can amend their records, and put a ‘notice of correction’ on your credit report explaining why the information shown is incorrect.

Bear in mind that your credit score will form only part of any lender’s decision whether or not to lend to you.

They will all base their decisions on different criteria, so just because you are refused by one provider, that doesn’t necessarily mean you will be turned down by them all.

Don’t make multiple credit applications if you are initially refused though as this could damage your credit score further.

Instead, use our Smart Search tool which will give you an indication of how likely you are to be accepted for credit cards or loans without leaving a mark on your credit file.