Tell us about your time on Save Well, Spend Better. What was the show about?

Save Well, Spend Better is a Channel 4 television series that aims to get Brits talking about their finances out and in the open! Over the five-part series – funded by Lloyds Bank – I was fortunate to join a panel of experts: Bianca Miller-Cole, Anna Williamson and Ann Wilson, in the ‘Save Well, Spend Better’ hub, where we conducted several intimate 1-2-1 sessions with the participants of the show.

 

Sounds like a great setup – talk to us about some of the guests you spoke to on the show.

In Episode 4, Anna and I got to meet a couple called Ryan and Millie. They were young, in love, and living at home with Ryan’s parents. They wanted to move out and get a place of their own, but they had very little savings and were struggling with debt. By their admission, Ryan and Millie always seemed to ‘end every payday with no money left’, despite jointly earning £2,600 a month.

We recommended that Ryan and Millie stick to a six-month spending plan and have regular ‘couple’s meetings’. When you’re in a committed relationship, you must talk about your finances as you would any other aspect of your relationship. Saving up for a deposit or otherwise, enjoy the feeling of working towards a common purpose. And once you start to build momentum, celebrate your wins!

70% of young people in Britain think it is impossible to get on the property ladder, but I would encourage them to think again. The Lifetime ISA (LISA) is an excellent Individual Savings Account for people aged 18-40 who are trying to buy their first home. You can save up to £4,000 per year into a LISA, and the government will pay a 25% bonus on your savings (up to a maximum of £1,000) every year until you’re 50 as long as you use the money to buy your first home.

We also took a look at Ryan and Millie’s debts. They had £20,000 of debt, £16,000 of which were car loans. The solution here was simple – we recommended they share a car, which slashed their monthly payments dramatically.

 

At the end of our session, we calculated that if Ryan and Millie stuck to our spending plan, they would be able to move out of Ryan’s parents’ within six months.

 

Fantastic result for Ryan and Millie! Who else did you meet?

In Episode 5, Ann and I met with Malcolm and Claire, a couple who had experienced a family tragedy four years prior. Malcolm’s mother had passed away, putting a lot of strain on the family. Also, Malcolm had suffered a heart attack and was also struggling with depression. Listening to their story, it became evident how interlinked our physical and mental health is with our financial health.

They had been very good with money in the past but chose to spend more liberally in response to their grief. This left them in £42,000 of debt, and because they were both on part-time wages, they were struggling to keep up with the monthly payments.

We suggested that Malcolm and Claire consider a ‘role change’. Malcolm had been the primary earner up until he had experienced his health issues, which presented an excellent opportunity for Claire to step up, increase her hours and work and play a more central role in the management of the family’s finances.

 Claire admitted that money management wasn’t her strong suit, which funny enough, was unsurprising. Indeed some 77% of British adults admit to being ‘confused’ by financial jargon. Thankfully there are plenty of free services where people can access simple, unbiased, financial advice, including Citizens Advice and the Money Advice Service. You can even call and request to meet with the manager at your local bank.

The silver lining in Malcolm and Claire’s story is that upon the death of Malcolm’s mother, she left them a £200,000 house, which Malcolm’s brother was living in – although he wasn’t paying any rent. Malcolm was reluctant to sell the house, as it would have meant asking his brother to move out. Thankfully we were able to recommend that his brother take out a mortgage on the home, which he could use to pay off Malcolm and Claire, which they, in turn, could use to pay off their debts. All in all, it was a good result for the family.

 

Were you mainly speaking to couples on the show, or were there any other types of guests?

 Our final guests on Episode 5 was a mother of three, Fiona, and her 19-year-old daughter Katie. Katie, who usually contributed to the household bills, had brought Fiona on the show as she’d suspected her mother had run into financial difficulties with the rent.

After a brief discussion, it emerged that Fiona was £5,000 in arrears, but did not want to raise it with her children as she did not think it was ‘their responsibility’. This discussion laid bare some of the difficulties that families can run into when money is concerned.

Katie was unhappy that her mum had kept this from her. She felt that as a contributor to the household finances, she had a right to know about the financial difficulties her mum faced. Fiona felt alone, helpless and that she’d ‘let the children down’. However, Fiona wasn’t alone, 423,000 private tenants were in arrears in the last 12 months in the UK.

If you are in a similar position to Fiona, it is worth investigating some of your household costs to see if you are due any refunds. For example, an estimated 400,000 UK households are in the wrong tax band. You can find out if this applies to you by checking with the Valuation Office in England or the Scottish Assessors Association in Scotland. You could even check in with your neighbours. Thousands of us are potentially overpaying on our council tax, and a successful claim could see you refunded as far back as 1993.

Households who have recently changed energy firms may also be due to a windfall. There have been a whopping £150 million in unclaimed utility overpayments since 2014. To find out if you could be due a refund, contact your old supplier on the phone, online or in the post, and ask.

Lastly, in addition to agreeing that Katie would increase her contributions to the household finances, we recommended that Fiona speak to her local Housing Association for support. £10bn in UK benefits goes unclaimed every year, and an estimated 1.3 million households are missing out on up to £3,000 per year in benefits payments.

 

You can access a number of Benefits Calculators on GOV.UK or go to your local JobCentre Plus branch to ask about your entitlements.

 

Any final remarks?

 I had a great time on Save Well, Spend Better, and it was an immense privilege to work alongside Bianca Miller Cole, Anna Williamson and Ann Wilson – and to speak to all of the show’s participants. We got up close and personal into many people’s lives, and I thank them for being so open with us.

 

I hope that as we begin to see more television shows like this, we as a nation will slowly become comfortable with speaking about our finances.