Low-earning households are being urged to start saving money now in time for next Christmas.The Money Advice Trust (MAT) debt charity is advising consumers who struggle with savings to budget for the year ahead.One idea, it says, is to join a credit union.An internet survey conducted for the MAT also suggests that more people will struggle with their finances this January than was the case last year.Some 16% of people questioned said they were likely – or very likely – to fall behind with their finances in January, as a result of Christmas spending.That amounts to 7.9 million people, the MAT said, and compares with 11% in a similar poll last year.The majority – 68% – said they would cope sufficiently during the month.
Back in the day, “Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells” was a nickname for any curmudgeonly soul who liked writing huffy letters to the newspapers from the heart of Middle England.
A new version of “Disgusted” was in the news recently, but with a couple of twists. First, the outrage was aimed at Tunbridge Wells (specifically at the town’s sitting Member of Parliament), rather than coming from that hotbed of outraged propriety. Second, the offended party wasn’t some crusty retired brigadier, but mild-mannered financial boffin, Martin Lewis, of MoneySavingExpert.com, who called the behaviour of Tunbridge’s MP, Greg Clark, “disgraceful.” What had Greg done to get Martin’s goat?
As well as being MP for Tunbridge Wells, Greg Clark is Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. In his day job, Greg encourages energy customers to shop around for the best deal. But then it emerged that Greg has never switched suppliers himself, saying it’s too much “hassle.” The money saving expert was not impressed, tweeting:
“Disgraceful. That should probably disqualify him from being energy minister. He should’ve tried just so he has lived experience.”
OK, I’m all for politicians knowing the price of a pint of milk and stuff, and I agree with Martin that Greg Clark ought to try doing what he recommends, but this doesn’t quite trigger a “Disgraceful” reading on my outrage-o-meter. Greg’s not actually harming anybody by failing to get the best deal (not even his own family who are, I’d guess, a long way from going hungry on the mean streets of Royal Tunbridge Wells). Calm down, put the kettle on and make yourself a nice cup of tea with your own very reasonably-priced electricity, Martin. You know it makes sense.
Unlike Gerg Clark, most of us aren’t so comfortably off and busy running a government department that we can afford to overlook the little matter of how much our energy supplier is charging us. But Greg, too, has a point. Even the energy regulator, Ofgem, agrees with him that switching can be a hassle.
In fact, Ofgem agrees with him so much that it decided that it would be a great idea to make energy companies give Ofgem details of all customers who’ve been on their standard variable tariff for more than three years. Ofgem planned to build a database, open to rival suppliers, who could write to those non-switching customers with offers of cheaper deals. Great plan – what could possibly go wrong?
In two words, “data protection.” In December, the Information Commissioner described the switching database plans as an “intrusion on individuals’ privacy” and this May, Ofgem put its plans to roll out the database in April 2018, on indefinite hold, to buy more time to work on details like security, and protecting customers’ data privacy.
Fortunately for people who do want a hassle-free switch, but don’t want to wait until some unspecified date after April 2018, there’s already a low-hassle way to find a better deal. Just go to the utilities page on our site to see one way you could save money on your utility bill with just a few clicks. Pick a bundle which could include not just energy utilities, but your broadband, phone and mobile – the more you add, the more you could potentially save. Why not give it a try? Add switching to your lived experience and you might even help to get Martin Lewis’s blood pressure back down to normal…
Saving up for a rainy day is now a minority pursuit. According to the Office for National Statistics, the amount of disposable income people in the UK are saving has fallen to a record low.
There are lots of external reasons for not saving – higher tax payments, spiralling housing costs, weak real wages and the struggle to pay down consumer debt, to name three. After all that, if you still find yourself with a few pounds to put aside, just putting it in a convenient savings account may not be enough. Since 2007, money deposited in easy access savings accounts generated interest rates lower than inflation for three quarters of the time, as Moneyfacts data recently found.
With a good chance that inflation will go up rather than down in the medium term, what can a wannabe saver do?
Well, you could just shop around for a better easy access account. Now that it’s easier than ever to change bank accounts, you can go hunting for the best rates. Even when average rates are low, you may be able to find a better deal, even if it’s only a higher introductory rate or a cash incentive to switch. If you don’t need your access to be that easy some standard savings accounts will offer a more favourable interest rate to customers who make fewer transactions. If you can afford to invest a specific minimum amount, some easy access accounts will offer a higher interest rate, too.
Another way to keep access to your nest egg with no notice or penalty would be to put it into premium bonds. But with no guaranteed income and an “average” prize rate which went down from 1.25% to 1.15% in May 2017, this probably won’t help you beat inflation, unless you happen strike lucky with one of those elusive big prizes.
Alternatively, a Stocks and Shares ISA could potentially out-perform inflation, attracting no capital gains tax, or tax on UK income, and you may be able to dip into it at any time. But it could also put your capital at risk, so you might end up getting less out than you put in.
Right now, it can take time and effort just to do better than breaking even, but it can be done. It does get easier if you’re able to tie some of your money up for a while, so it always pays to do a bit of personal financial planning. How much of the money you’ve put aside needs to be on tap for emergencies? Can you afford to lock a bit extra away and grow it to meet your longer term goals?
Whether you need some help to make the most of your personal finances, or you already have a plan and are looking for the best product to make the most of your money, why not get in touch with one of our friendly finance professionals today? Together, we can beat the savings drought.
The information in this article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute financial advice. You must not rely on the information in this article as an alternative to financial advice from an appropriately qualified professional. If you have any specific questions about any matter you should consult an appropriately qualified professional.