No longer updating

It's a shame, but I'm no longer updating this website. Busy setting up new ventures.

I'll leave it up for anyone who's interested.

Thanks to all regular readers, and all the best for the future.

Cheers, PJ

Youth money thoughts

Anyone can learn about money.

Anyone can help anyone else learn.

Making mistakes doesn't mean you're hopeless.

Managing money is a lot about relationships & understanding other people.

Good financial education is not about turning people into more savvy consumers.

Good financial education starts with young people's interests and builds on their strengths.

What to do with a windfall (that isn't yours)

Imran Ahmen didn’t hesitate when hundreds of thousands of pounds appeared unexpectedly in his bank account. He started spending. Big mistake. He’s now doing 140 hours of unpaid community work and has a four-month suspended jail term. He is paying back £10 a month to his old employer who had mistakenly transferred £242,558 into his account. This cannot be easy, as he’s been sacked from his call centre job with Dixons in Sheffield.

Ahmen, 21, spent £28,000 in two days. According to press reports he bought two cars for £14,000, lent £10,000 to a friend and gambled the rest.

Spending money that isn’t yours is theft. That’s an obvious fact about money that isn’t as widely known as it could be. Mistakes happen from time to time. A transfer may end up in the wrong account, or a cash machine starts giving out money randomly. Or you may just find money in the street. There’s a simple rule: if you know it’s not yours, it’s illegal to act as if it is.

Lottery winners turn Tory

“If I won thousands on the lottery, it wouldn’t change me.” Why buy a ticket, then? “So I wouldn’t have to worry about money any more, that’s all. I’d have the security of the money, but the essential me would still be there. I’d still have my old mates, my old personality and the things I like doing. Most important my beliefs and attitudes would be the same.”

Wrong. “Humans are creatures of flexible ethics,” says Nick Powdthavee. He’s a professor at the London School of Economics and joint author of a new study suggesting that acquiring money makes people more right wing and less egalitarian. The researchers compared people’s political attitudes before and after a big lottery win. Winners tend to switch towards support for a right-wing political party. The bigger the win the more they tilt to the right.

What’s more, lottery winners are more likely to agree with the statement that ordinary people “already get a fair share of society’s wealth”.

Is that surprising or not? Either way, it’s worth a discussion. A lottery win could be a ticket to a changed personality. Money makes you think, differently.


Poor pay more for smartphones

If you’re short of cash and have a poor credit rating, you’ll know you can’t afford a top-of-the-range smartphone. But do you know how much over the odds you’d pay if you did buy one?xperia-Z1

The Sony Xperia Z1 costs £599.99 as an O2 pay-as-you-go. Someone with enough cash could just buy it outright. They could even shop around and try to get a better deal.

If you were on a tight budget, and had no chance of credit, you could get the same phone from BrightHouse. That’s the high street shop that provides goods in return for a weekly repayment.

The BrightHouse price for the O2 pay-as-you-go Sony Xperia Z1 is £15 a week for two years. Which adds up to £1,560. That’s £960 more than the cash buyer paid.

Here’s how the costs add up. Note that the starting “cash price” is much higher than the cash price offered by O2. Then the interest payments are added. The figure quoted is a representative one. Not all customers will be offered that. Some will pay even more.

  • Cash price /amount of credit £966.70
  • Weekly payment £15
  • Number of weeks 104
  • Annual fixed interest rate* / Representative APR 69.9%
  • Total payable £1,560.00

Obviously, anyone on a low income who signed up for such a purchase would be inviting trouble. But going the BrightHouse route is the same for non-luxury basics such as cookers and washing machines. You pay a lot more for the same product.

This adds up to a powerful argument for a) getting into a savings habit and b) not looking at top-of-the-range goods if you can’t afford them. For instance, you could start saving £15 a week, rather than giving it to BrightHouse. You could buy a lower-specced Sony Experia outright after just five weeks. You don’t get such a good phone. You don’t get into certain debt problems either.

How do payday lenders get their money back?

Here’s a fact of financial life. Strangers who lend you money will have a method of getting it back. Mainstream lenders have their method. They won’t lend to you unless you can afford to repay. Illegal lenders – such as unlicensed door step lenders or drug dealers – have ways of encouraging you to repay which you’d be much better off not finding out about. But what about payday lenders?payday-loans

One answer is by pestering, making phone calls many times a day, and generally becoming a nuisance. Another is more technical, to do with the banking system.

Payday lenders usually set up a recurring payment on the borrower’s debit card. This isn’t a direct debit arrangement, though it can seem like one. It’s called a continuous payment authority or CPA. If the lender is unable to get money out of the borrower’s account on the due day it can try again later. In fact, it can keep trying and trying until, one day, there’s money in the account and the lender grabs it. This can cause problems for the borrower, who’d allocated that cash to go towards a priority debt.

What’s more, the lender might take a larger sum than agreed, perhaps the whole of the outstanding debt not just the instalment that’s due.

So it makes sense for the borrower who realises they are in financial trouble and doesn’t want to make it worse, to cancel the CPA with the lender. They can then come to some more manageable arrangement to pay back what they owe, without causing other problems.

But CPAs are hard to cancel. Banks have been saying it isn’t up to them to cancel them – that must be done by the lender. And anyway, the lender sometimes sets them up again, even after they’ve been cancelled.

It sounds outrageous, and it is. The Financial Conduct Authority has told banks to cancel CPAs when they are told to by the customer. That’s good, especially since banks should now refund any money taken after the cancellation.

But it is still a difficult area and one that everyone should know about. It’s also worth knowing that other organisations, such as gyms, use CPAs to collect money. The Money Advice Service explains more about payday loans, and sets out alternative borrowing options. They also produce the painful-looking graphic above, which is a good visual reminder of the perils of payday loans.

£500 project grants

Could you get together a group of young people interested in devising and running a money management project? If you can persuade an adult from some learning organisation to sponsor your idea, register your interest in the Money for Life project.

Assuming that the project runs as it has in previous years, applications will be invited from September to November. Successful projects – over 250 last year – will receive £500 to turn their plan into a reality.

This year’s winners Bouncing Babies, pictured, ran a support group for young mothers on money management from their college in Lisburn, County Antrim. This and all project reports are showcased for inspiration.

Or watch the promo video:

Underspending and financial hoarding

Here’s a piece I wrote for the On the Money blog for Children and Young People Now magazine. I’m hoping to hear a range of experiences – so feel free to get in touchmoney image

Do you know a young person who has trouble spending money? Laugh at the idea, by all means. After all, the miser has been a figure of fun since classical Rome. But while financial education generally focuses on the perils of overspending and irresponsible shopping, there’s a seldom-discussed problem at the other end of the spectrum. That’s underspending and financial hoarding.

I was introduced to it many years ago when an adviser at a young people’s debt project told me about a young man who’d put his life on hold after an early experience with debt. He’d lost any sense of proportion about what money was for. All he had was a determination to part with as little of it as possible.

Continue reading Underspending and financial hoarding

Conspicuous consumption

How do you get national media to take notice of your school National Record of Achievement ceremony? Tower Hamlets students seem to have cracked it. You just turn up in a Ferrari. Or a Lamborghini or a Bentley or whatever flash car you can hire or borrow.


The Evening Standard, the Guardian and countless more websites and newspapers are showing pictures of enterprising 16 year olds whose prom-style leavers-do has grown more and more elaborate in recent years.

As 16-year-old Foyzur Rahman told the Standard: “It’s showing off, basically. Playing music, going from area to area to area.” He said he paid £400 with a friend to rent an Audi S4 for several days.

Great discussion topic. Worth remembering that research suggests you get more for your money if you buy experiences rather than stuff.


Tax and summer jobs

Students doing summer jobs used to be able to sign a form P38(S) and have their earnings paid without deduction of tax. Not any more. In April, PAYE started operating in real time. Standard PAYE now applies to all students. More will need to claim back tax at the end of the year.student tax image

There’s a useful summary in Guardian Money explaining what those with a vacation job should do. The gist of the advice, which actually applies to everyone in work whatever their age or circumstance, is:

  • Get yourself a tax code. Understand what it means and why it is what it is.
  • Check your payslip and coding notices and make sure they match and that you agree with them.
  • If you have overpaid tax, claim it back.

The article is clear and understandable. It is largely based on work by the excellent Low Incomes Tax Reform Group.

One thing worth adding is that there is a benefit to overpaying tax while you are working at a summer job. It means you get a neat lump sum sometime in the future when it could be most welcome. So don’t necessarily think of it as an annoyance, more as a convenient way to save.

Even the rich need to manage money

Martine McCutcheon filed for bankruptcy yesterday. The Mirror dubbed her the biggest soap star since Mr Matey bubble bath. The Times listed her achievements: “a much-loved soap actress, a chart-topping singer, a highly acclaimed musical star, a bestselling novelist….”martinemccutcheon

She had fame, success and a lot of money. Now she can’t pay her debts. She’s handed her money and property over to the official receiver. She lives on a basic income without luxuries.

Why mention her? Because she, and a fair number of other celebs who acquire fortunes and lose them, are an object lesson for young people. They illustrate the stark, perhaps surprising, truth that you can never have so much money that you don’t have to bother about it.

Some teenagers scorn the idea of money management. Phrases like, “I’m going to be famous” or “When the band gets its break, I won’t need to worry about money” are quite common. Fair enough, you can reply. But fame and success don’t reduce the need to understand and manage money. They increase it.

Bad reasons for financial education

Here are two bonkers arguments for financial education in schools. The first is from Mark Garnier MP, vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group for financial education for young people. He told the Financial Times earlier this month, “We need to make sure the next generation are financially literate. Compulsory financial education could avert the next financial crisis.”pic_money

Almost as ridiculous is the view of Andrew Percy MP, who chaired an eight-month inquiry for that same parliamentary group. He told the Daily Telegraph that financial education would be a long-term solution to irresponsible borrowing and personal insolvency.

To get a glimpse of how absurd these views are, think first about the general numeracy levels across the UK. A report last year suggested that 17 million adults, virtually half the working population, have numeracy skills that you would expect from primary school children. Mmm.

Then think about teenagers in general, and what they tend to know about, say, different financial products, their purpose and relative advantages. What’s their take on packaged bank accounts as opposed to no-frills current accounts, for instance? What do they see as the main advantages and flaws of permanent health insurance? Are they up to speed on the difference between defined benefit and defined contribution pension schemes and do they have a view about the level of equity and overseas growth funds they might want in their mix? Thought not.

Bearing in mind young people’s baseline capabilities, and those of the older generation, imagine what transformation of knowledge, skills and attitudes would be needed to equip them to “avert the next financial crisis”. I know some financially astute people who took out an Equitable Life pension. Many local authority accountants deposited money in Icelandic banks that went bust. Numerate and well-educated people took out endowment mortgages that failed. Would they all have fared better if they’d had financial education at school? Or take Libor fixing. How might the future cohorts of financially-capable school leavers have averted that? Would concerned citizens have so loudly expressed their hunch that manipulation of the interbank lending rate was going on that MPs would have forced the authorities into action? Really?

Then there are the financial products that caused the credit crunch and our current woes. Those are the collateral debt obligations, credit default swaps and structured investment vehicles that were scarcely understood even by the people who created and sold them. The credit ratings agencies gave triple-A ratings to worthless mortgage-backed securities. Regulators didn’t see anything amiss worth taking action on. Are the MPs imagining that financial education in schools will somehow bring the population to a level of financial acumen and integrity that exceeds that of the best minds in our financial institutions, ratings agencies and regulatory bodies? What kind of fantasies are these?

In the case of personal insolvency, the fantasies seem rather sick. Picture someone who’s lost everything because their partner ran off, or they developed cancer or their business failed – or all three. Suggesting that their problems lie in their inadequate education is insulting and ignorant.

So why are the MPs saying this stuff? They may be so carried away with their enthusiasm for financial education that they lose perspective and make giddy remarks. Or they may have an ideological belief in a free and unfettered market of financial products whose principal safeguard is empowered and educated consumers. Either way, their arguments are daft and dangerous.