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Money advice: Why it’s time to take control of our finances

There’s never been a better time to get money advice as furlough and the Universal Credit uplift end and energy bills rise

Coronavirus has impacted many of our finances and changed how we work, earn, save, spend and stress about money.

Demand for money advice spiked during the pandemic – with nearly 50 million visits to the Money Advice Service, The Pensions Advisory Service and Pension Wise in 2020, which was 1.2 million more visits than the year before.

Many of us find ourselves wishing we’d been taught more about money at school. As we emerge from 18 months of restrictions, with many facing the end of the Universal Credit uplift and furlough, and rising energy bills at the start of October, there’s never been a better time to look for money advice and get on top of our finances.

“I think a lot of people feel intimidated or overwhelmed by so much of the jargon from the financial services world, and often embarrassed that they don’t fully understand how lots of money products, like pensions or investments or buy-now-pay-later debt products work and end up losing money as a result,” Laura Whateley, author of Money A User’s Guide, tells The Big Issue. “But it’s not surprising – we didn’t learn about personal finance at school, and so many of us have to figure it out as we go often in pressurised situations like trying to buy a house.”

“In reality, for most people taking control of your finances is not as hard as you might fear. Taking control of your money, understanding what’s coming in and going out, how much debt or savings you have takes a bit of time, but it can be an incredibly empowering process. Sadly when it comes to money, because of the way compounding interest and debt piles up, the more you bury your head, the worse your problems can become.” 

One way to get back on track with your finances is a free nine-week online programme called ‘Couch to Financial Fitness’, launched by MoneyHelper, a government-backed service offering impartial advice. Topics include cutting costs, staying on top of bills and strengthening savings, then five extra weeks of activities on “money milestones” including starting a family, buying a home or saving for retirement. People will be asked to record how they feel before and after each step so the programme’s impact on wellbeing can be measured.

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“As we continue to navigate the Covid-19 pandemic, we’re encouraging people to think about how financially fit they feel right now,” says Caroline Siarkiewicz, chief executive at the Money and Pensions Service.

“We’re coming into a pivotal time for personal finances; the next weeks and months will see support measures end and the return of day-to-day expenses as many of us start commuting or socialising again. Now is the time to make a plan for what comes next.”

The lack of money education on the National Curriculum inspired authors Jane Bingham and Holly Bathie to create a teenage-friendly guide to the world of money – Managing Your Money, published by Usborne Books. It’s suitable for children and adults who want to get a better understanding of finances.

“Many people shy away from thinking about money, but in fact it’s not as daunting as it seems,” 

Bingham tells The Big Issue. “If kids were only taught more about finances in school, they’d learn that it’s not so hard to take control of their money, given the right tools.

“Taking charge of your money, finding the best deals, and saving up for the things you really want is a truly empowering experience.”

You can read our piece on managing your money and staying out of debt here.

One organisation that believes young people should be taught about finances as early as possible is Hastee, which has an app that allows employees to withdraw their accrued pay before payday to manage their finances better.

“Many debt issues start through a lack of financial education and if the curriculum can teach people key life skills that they will need every day, such as managing their finances, there would be less reliance on credit,” marketing director Jamie Hockin tells The Big Issue.

Hastee, one of Nesta’s Rapid Recovery finalists, has launched bespoke financial education platform Nudge, free for a year to all 16 to 24 year olds in the UK. 

Hastee’s Workplace Wellbeing survey of more than 2,000 employed adults in August 2020 found fewer than one in five (18 per cent) of workplaces offered financial wellbeing advice.

Younger workers were the most likely age group to apply for high-cost credit that they would struggle to repay, with 80 per cent of 18 to 24 year olds resorting to this option, compared to just 26 per cent of those over 65.

Hastee believes that businesses should be proactively boosting the financial literacy of their workforce and offer purpose-built tools to provide financial liquidity.

Get career tips and advice from our Jobs and Training series:

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