Save the best . . .

A Generic Photo illustrating the concept of saving for a rainy day. See PA Feature FINANCE Finance Column. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/JupiterImages Corporation. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature FINANCE Finance Column.
A Generic Photo illustrating the concept of saving for a rainy day. See PA Feature FINANCE Finance Column. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/JupiterImages Corporation. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature FINANCE Finance Column.

Putting money away in savings hasn’t exactly been the easiest of tasks in recent years, with squeezed incomes leaving little surplus “rainy day” cash.

Even for those people who have been fortunate and disciplined enough to place money aside, the returns are still pretty paltry.

But saving is important, and it’s vital for most of us to have a “buffer” to turn to following an unexpected financial shock - be that losing your job or dealing with a broken boiler.

Households are generally recommended to have at least three months’ worth of essential spending put by to protect against sudden dents in their income.

But if saving isn’t your strong point, how can you turn your habits around?

New research from consumer group Which? has uncovered common traits in good savers, and the first of these is seeing saving as a habit, putting away money every month, no matter how big or small.

Which? found that getting into the habit of saving every month is far more likely to result in someone reaching a three-month saving buffer - true of people on lower incomes as well as those who earn more.

The second similarity in successful savers is saving for saving’s sake, rather than having a particular aim to put money towards, such as buying a car or booking a holiday. Which? found that saving in order to spend your money on something specific makes you more likely to stop saving once you’ve made whatever purchase you’re aiming towards. It also found that saving a certain amount, or proportion, of regular income tends to result in greater success than saving to reach one particular sum of money.

Finally, most successful savers tend to squirrel money out of the way of temptation, in a separate savings product that they’re less likely to dip into.

It’s advice that should be heeded by the 49% of people unhappy with their household savings, and the quarter (24%) who have no savings at all.

Certainly, Which? estimates around 14 million people could be encouraged to save more, and wants politicians to work with the industry and employers to “help get the UK saving”, passing on lessons from people who already have good saving habits.

Which? executive director Richard Lloyd says: “With half the population unhappy with their level of savings, we want the Government to develop a national savings strategy to help people build up a savings buffer, which is crucial to the resilience of the economy.”

Now could be a great time to start the savings habit, as the amount of money that can be saved into an Isa has been sharply increased. Launched on July 1, the new “super-Isa” allows people to put up to £15,000 a year tax-free in cash, stocks and shares, or any combination of the two.

Figures just released by the British Bankers’ Association (BBA) suggest that the new Isa limit is helping to revitalise the country’s savings culture. The BBA found that the amount of money being put into cash Isas surged by £4.9 billion in July, suggesting that people were waiting for the new rules to come into effect before putting their cash away.

HOW... CAN WIDOWS MAKE SURE THEY DON’T LOSE THEIR LATE HUSBANDS’ PENSIONS?

Pensions expert Ros Altmann says it’s certainly a problem that many people lose track of old pension entitlements, and a widow can find herself left without anything from her late husband’s pension unless she is aware of what his entitlement was.

Dr Altmann, who was recently appointed by the Government as business champion for older workers, says: “If husbands have died relatively young, a defined benefit pension scheme would provide some money for the widow and a defined contribution scheme could pay out a tax free sum, but widows would need to notify the scheme that their husband has passed away and make a claim for their entitlement.”

Here are Dr Altmann’s tips on how wives and widows can make sure they receive what they are entitled to:

Keep track of all old entitlements. This is vital even before you reach older age, just in case of accidental death.

Consider merging old pension entitlements together in one place so they are easier to keep track of. Ideally, people might consider moving their old entitlements with them when they change jobs or start with a new pension provider.

Keep a list of all your pension entitlements and latest statements.

If you’re moving house, make sure you notify all your pension providers of your change of address so they can contact you.

Keep “expression of wish” forms up to date so pension providers know who should inherit a pension if the worst happens.

If your husband has died, you might want to consider writing to any past employers you know your husband worked for to ask if they have a pension scheme and if they have any record of him having been a member.

A Government-run service can help track down old pensions - www.gov.uk/find-lost-pension.