‘Sex isn’t really what sells. What sells is fear’

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How many times have you glanced at the front cover of a glossy magazine, stared at an image on Instagram or gazed into a shop window and thought how well-curated, stylish and – well – downright sexy everything looks?

Luxury fabrics; girls with pearls dripping from their glossy lips; that ‘must have’ shade of mustard/aubergine/burgundy – it’s all there. But does it make you want to buy it?

Does sex sell?

The oh-so-shiny (and pricy) periodicals are always ahead of the game. Are you just about to sashay into September? The October issue of Vogue/Tatler/Harpers etc. is already on the shelf. Its mission is to persuade you to buy the next thing (and the next thing) and to get it first.

The Sunday supplements then reinforce the message on a weekly basis with their snappy articles entitled: “What’s hot now”; “What to wear this month”; or “The latest colour story for Autumn”.

All of this stuff looks so attractive, cute and highly fashionable. It looks sexy. But, does sex sell?

Well, no.

The title quote from this blog post is taken from Matt Haig’s Notes On A Nervous Planet, which I’m reading at the moment. What Haig says is this:

“Sex isn’t really what sells. What sells is fear.”

Oh.

What is this fear you speak of?

This ‘fear’ we’ve all seen – and been driven by – takes many forms:

  • Fear of not looking stylish, beautiful or fashionable enough
  • Fear of not seeming successful enough (or not appearing to move in the right circles)
  • Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)
  • Fear of not being enough
  • Fear of loss

You can add your own fear to the list.

Have we succumbed to purchases through fear?

My most recent ‘fear’ purchase came about through fear of loss. In my last post, I mentioned that I had ‘won’ (bought – doh!) a bag via eBay. In fact, it wasn’t a terribly successful transaction but its motivation was definitely fear.

I had recently returned home to find my bus pass on the road at the bottom of our drive. I mus have pulled it out of my bag when rummaging for something else, but I hadn’t noticed its lightweight form dropping to the ground. I need this pass every day; just imagine if someone else had picked it up or I’d arrived at the bus stop only to discover it was missing?

My intended new bag was designed to mitigate this risk, as it had a small zip-up pocket on the exterior of the bag. In theory, my pass would be the only item to go into that little pocket, which would be zipped up firmly to ensure no future loss! You see? Fear…

Bigger purchases can also be driven by fear

Bigger, more substantive purchases can also be driven by fear.

Worried about turning up at business meetings not looking adequately successful in your old family estate car? That fear can literally drive you to purchasing a brand new, beyond-your-means vehicle that you don’t actually need and that will represent too great a chunk of your monthly outgoings. (Note – Dave Ramsey’s rule of thumb is this: never have anything with a motor that represents – in value – more than half your annual income).

The solution

Examine what drives your behaviour. Behaviour change is key if we’re going to get beyond fear-driven impulse purchases that lead to clutter (and even debt).

Think of all the categories in which you’re likely to spend for fear of missing out; for not seeming pretty enough; for not feeling as well-groomed as you would like; or simply for not being on top of the latest trends. As Autumn is just around the corner, this is another time of transition in how we look and what we wear. So, think about the following categories:

Make up

You know what suits you. Just buy that when it runs out.

If you do fancy a change of product, then do your homework before you buy. I’m about to go and have a make-up session at Trinny London (check out the results on Instagram after next Thursday afternoon!).

The reason I’m doing this is because I have read very good things about Trinny London products but really want to try them out properly before I buy. It’s also a fun thing to do with my 16 year old, before she goes back to school. I once treated myself to some make-up in SpaceNK where the helpful salesperson applied a little bit of product to a square inch of my cheek and declared the colour match to be perfect. It wasn’t.

Clothes

Don’t try and emulate the clothes of a friend whose style you admire. They won’t suit you and you’ll end up passing them onto someone else.

Need a wardrobe boost? Put Project 333 in to practice before you buy more.  In my case, that’s “Project 224” (I tend to change my wardrobe around every 2 months, using normally 24 items or less in that period). The weather – and notably the temperature – changes frequently in the UK. Although we’ve had an unusually prolonged hot spell this year, the end of August has seen temperatures drop back to a more usual level. This has led me to doing my habitual switch-around where summer clothes go and spend the winter in the little wardrobe in our study and the autumn/winter clothes begin to emerge from their enforced exile.

Accessories

Choose accessories that work in any season and buy quality over quantity. I’m not big on accessories, I have to admit. I used to work with a wonderful woman who knew how to wear a chunky necklace and who was never without a fabulous statement belt. That’s just not me. So, buy what you need and only buy what you’ll actually use (not what your ‘fantasy self’ or your best friend might wear.

Be not afraid

So, as the final Bank Holiday of the year becomes a memory, don’t be driven by fear.

Especially if you’re off to college or university or Sixth Form, remember that being you – and being your authentic self – is way better than trying to emulate someone else’s style, looks or bank balance. It’s much better than way and I promise you won’t miss out. So let’s get ‘Fear’ off the list once and for all.


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The No Spend Weekend

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In the last few years, there have been a number of high-profile proponents of the full-on, no- holds-barred shopping ban.

A whole year of buying nothing

One of the most well-known is Cait Flanders who wrote about her year of buying nothing in her best-selling memoir, The Year of Less. I discussed Cait’s book when I compared the idea of a shopping ban to a written budget in a previous blog post here.

Writer Ann Patchett also had a year of no spending, which she wrote about in The New York TimesPatchett’s year without shopping enabled her to learn to live with “…the startling abundance that had become glaringly obvious when I stopped trying to get more.” She realised that she already had more than enough and was startled to realise how much time she could save by not actually shopping at all.

A shopping ban can be a really useful way to curb your spending, whilst helping you appreciate what you already have. If you’re paying down your debt Dave Ramsey style, it’s also an excellent way to throw extra money at Baby Step 2.

The “Allowed” list

When you decide to instigate a shopping ban, it helps to devise a set of rules. London-based journalist, Michelle McGagh, bought nothing in a 12 month period: no coffee, no cinema, no clothes and even no transport costs. She pressed her bicycle into service and lived on next to nothing for an entire year.

Writer Gretchen Rubin famously abstains from eating carbohydrates; if she doesn’t eat carbs, she doesn’t have to think about them. A little bit of something in moderation isn’t her style.

So, if you go down the road of a complete ban, you decide your own rules in terms of what is permissible and what is banned from your spending list. 

All or nothing

If you’re someone who needs to take an ‘all or nothing’ approach, a shopping ban might help if you’re trying to be more intentional with your spending.

If you can’t go out shopping without returning home laden with bags of merchandise you hadn’t planned to buy, the ‘all or nothing’ approach might be beneficial. Even better, by announcing your intention, you can also get accountability for your goals: your supporters will spur you on and help keep you on track.

What goes on your essential list is up to you, but it may provide a structured framework to your shopping ban if you decide to give it a go. Cait Flanders decided to allow herself to buy some useful (and very practical) things, including  – in the second year of her experiment – replacement items, essential toiletries and gifts for others.

No spend drawbacks

Initiating a shopping ban for such a lengthy time might bring some drawbacks, however, as Cait discovered during her year of less.

For example, so-called well-meaning ‘friends’ would try and tempt Cait to buy something she didn’t need, or which wasn’t on The Approved List. They reasoned that ‘she deserved it’ or that a little retail therapy was no bad thing. In fact, this was tantamount to offering a reformed smoker a cigarette, a dieter a wedge of chocolate fudge cake, or an alcoholic ‘just one’ drink. Happily for her, a handful of true friends were on hand to help keep Cait on track.

Another potential drawback of a shopping ban is that you also have to deal with situations that could send you off course. That is, if you’re working to achieve a specific financial goal, you’d need to avoid putting yourself in situations where you might blow your budget. For an abstainer, it has to be all or nothing.

As Cait writes, “The toughest part… was having to confront my triggers and change my reaction to them. It always felt like the minute I forgot about the shopping ban was the same minute I felt like shopping again.”

The no spend weekend

Is there another way, though?

You could try a ‘No Spend Day’ where you literally spend nothing, apart from essentials that are already in your budget. That may be relatively easy to do. But many of us, like me, are at their most spendthrift at the weekend.

As Hilly Janes admits in her book Latte or Cappuccino: 125 Decisions That Will Change Your Life, “We spend all week earning our crust so there’s nothing like a bit of retail therapy at the weekend to make those hours spent toiling at work seem worthwhile.”

Even if you’re not buying ‘stuff’ it’s still possible to fritter away your hard-earned cash if you’re not being intentional. So, I propose a ‘No Spend Weekend’ (which has a nice ring to it).

What happens on a ‘spendy’ weekend

Imagine that time period between Friday evening and Monday morning. What might you spend, if you weren’t being deliberate and intentional with your money?

At the end of a busy week, will you get dinner out or maybe purchase a meal deal from M&S or Waitrose? That’s at least £10 (or more) gone.

Saturday sees you nipping into town, where you pick up a few things you need. Oh, and there’s that coffee stop and the parking charges. Before you know it, you’ve spent a few more (tens of) pounds. You see where I’m going with this.

Sunday is probably the day when you go online at some point. It might be the day when you do your weekly food shop online or when you list things on eBay. But there’s always the risk that you’ll also ‘add to basket’ something that you see as you go about your business.

What a ‘no spend weekend’ could look like

Assuming you work a regular Monday – Friday week (sorry if you don’t), Friday evening could be a very good time to unwind at home, particularly if the weather is good and you can enjoy a meal al fresco. Historically, we always cleaned the house on a Friday evening, but have since resolved to bring this forward to Thursday, leaving Friday night for a more gentle slide into the weekend.

Saturday could therefore be a day to take things a little easier. We typically do a reasonably long dog walk, receive our online food shopping and enjoy some cooking (Enchiladas or Burritos are our favourite Saturday lunch these days). Every other week, I also volunteer with our little dog when we visit our local nursing home (we are Pets as Therapy volunteers). After all that, we usually chill out in the afternoon. See – no room for shopping!

On Sundays, my thoughts turn towards the working week. It’s great to get ahead with preparation for the days ahead but Sundays are also great for family time. And, depending on when your Sabbath falls, using a ‘no shopping on the Sabbath’ rule could support this initiative. And stay away from online shopping sites!!!

If you are going to spend

Remember that buying something or buying an experience will both give you a lift, but it’s the experience whose happy memories will stay with you long after you’ve forgotten anything you could have bought along the way. Buying something for someone else will also promote greater feelings of happiness than if you spent the money on yourself (great news if you’re not looking to bring more stuff into the home). And stick to a shopping list. That way, you’ll avoid impulse purchases.

Paying by cash is also a much better way to curb your spending. Going back to Hilly Janes’ Latte or Cappuccino, Janes reminds us that our brains register fewer negative feelings when using a card than when parting with physical cash. That’s why the envelope system for budgeting works well for people: you can literally see and feel how much you have left.

So, as you head towards this weekend (and I’m hoping you’re not going to be stuck in holiday getaway traffic this ‘frantic Friday’), will you consider a No Spend Weekend?


 

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Minted or skinted?

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It’s a myth that minimalists don’t have stuff. Of course we do.

Some proponents of simple living really do exist with just a handful of belongings. But, for most of us, that’s not how we do it. Rather, we don’t buy things we don’t need; we can be ruthless when it comes to letting go of excess; and we may also be quite frugal when it comes to spending money.

Naturally, minimalists buy consumables like everyone else. What I’m interested in is getting more bang for my buck. Is is possible to find high-performing products that don’t require high-end prices? I think it is…

Fragrance

Minted?

Diptique Philosykos perfume is a gorgeous, woody fragrance, reminiscent of warm Greek evenings. It retails at £115, so is a very exclusive perfume, sold at a price likely to exceed most families’ weekly grocery budget.

Skinted!

Di Palomo’s Fig eau de parfum is a great alternative to the ‘minted’ version. Transporting you to southern European climes, this value-for-money fragrance is a lovely option. Plus, I bought a bottle recently on eBay (it cost me £14.99).

Skin care

Minted?

Dermalogica’s skin care range is world-renowned but – if I’m honest – shockingly expensive. Its Daily Microfoliant looks fabulous but it comes at a whopping £49.50. Who can afford that kind of luxury – even if it does make your skin zing and glow?

Skinted!

Here’s where St Ives Blemish Control Scrub comes in. At just £3 from my supermarket, here’s a high performing product – paraben free and 100% natural – that makes you wonder why you’d ever spend more.

Make-up

Minted?

Years ago, I suffered a great deal with my skin. A beauty therapist I visited for facials recommended Clarins’ Extra Firming Foundation. Although presented as an anti-ageing product, she actually used it on brides, as it always delivered a lovely, radiant complexion. It’s fairly pricey at £34, so I haven’t bought it for quite a while.

Skinted!

Maybelline is available everywhere on the high street at around a quarter of the price of its high-end cousin. Its Dream Satin Liquid foundation is very impressive, providing just the right amount of coverage with a range of natural shades. Currently on offer at Fabled, you begin to wonder why you’d ever buy a prestige brand again.

The maths

Of course, there are reasons why we select prestige brands. You might enjoy the customer experience of buying consumables like this in a pleasant retail environment. There’s the lovely lighting, the helpful assistants, possibly some ‘freebie’ samples, the (unnecessary but oh-so-stylish) packaging and the cute little gift bag to carry as a symbol of your purchase.

But the enjoyment can only ever be short-lived when the dopamine hit has dissolved and you’re left with an empty bank account.

Take these little examples. If I bought each of the ‘minted’ items, I’d have spent a whopping £198.50 altogether.

Even at full price (which I rarely pay) my ‘skinted’ alternatives come in at £35.99.

= Total ‘skinted’ saving £162.51.

Apply this to the rest of your consumer spending

Apply this logic to the rest of your consumer spending and you could really make some savings in your budget.

For example, swapping a supermarket’s own product for a branded one can save you quite a lot off a weekly shop. As you substitute one for the other, you’ll see the cost of your weekly shop come down quite a bit.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that we shop online for our weekly groceries. It’s very easy to compare prices if you’re shopping from the comfort of your own home. Once you’ve got added of your items from your shopping list into the basket, take a closer look. You can definitely shave off a few pounds if you make a switch. Plus, the value lines offer perfectly good products at a fraction of the cost.

Of course, it’s only a bargain if you were going to buy it anyway. But being intentional with your purchases will really make a difference, especially if you have a savings goal in mind or you’re looking to get out debt.

Shopping the ‘skinted’ way will make a real difference: all of a sudden, it feels like you’ve got a pay rise.

What sort of substitutions have you found at a skinted price for consumables? Do please let us know by replying to this post, below!


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The shopping ban vs written budget

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I’ve recently started reading Cait Flanders’ The Year of Less. In this book (her debut), Cait documents (with a real openness and honesty) what was happening in her life during a 12 month period when she decided to go ‘cold turkey’ on her spending and instigate a year-long shopping ban.

Cait describes how she had documented the ‘year of less’ on her blog, inspiring others to do a shopping ban of their own.

The Approved Shopping List

In case you’re curious, Cait decided to change her relationship with spending by sticking to a specific number of self-imposed rules. The items on her Approved Shopping List were carefully considered: she worked out what would be coming up during the period of her shopping ban and planned accordingly.

To give you some examples, takeout coffees were firmly off the list, but replacement toiletries and cosmetics were OK, providing they weren’t “fun items” such as nail polish. Travel was definitely on the list, but clothes were not.

This got me thinking about the difference between getting on a written budget versus instigating a shopping ban. Were they polar opposites, or could one approach benefit the other?

Getting on a written budget

If you’ve been reading my blog for a little while, you’ll know that I have previously cited the work of Dave Ramsey. One of the key tenets of Ramsey’s philosophy is that, if you’re going to be successful with money, you have to get on a written budget.

Ramsey’s budgeting app, ‘EveryDollar’ (not available in the UK), is so named because the idea is that you literally tell every dollar where to go.

My dual account spreadsheet serves the same purpose. With two accounts rather than one, we run all of our regular bills and expenses (e.g. utility bills) off the first account. This leaves only the second account to manage in terms of discretionary spending on items including food, groceries, fuel and so on.

Why a written budget is so useful

A written budget is essential. It means you plan in advance of your spending, rather than worrying about where your cash has gone when there is ‘too much month at the end of the money’.

If your finances are joint ones, by sitting down each month and doing a written plan, you also balance any ‘go go’ (spending) tendencies against any ‘no no’ (saving) preferences within your relationship.

The benefits of a shopping ban

A complete shopping ban also has a number of benefits, especially if you’re someone who needs to take an ‘all or nothing’ approach.

Writer Gretchen Rubin famously abstains from eating carbohydrates; if she doesn’t eat carbs, she doesn’t have to think about them. A little bit of something in moderation isn’t her style.

The same goes for someone who can’t go shopping without returning home laden with bags of merchandise they hadn’t planned to buy. So, the ‘all or nothing’ approach might be beneficial.

By announcing your intention, you can also get accountability for your goals: your supporters will spur you on and help keep you on track.

‘No spend’ drawbacks

Cait’s experience made me realise that initiating a shopping ban might also bring some drawbacks.

For example, so-called well-meaning ‘friends’ would try and tempt her to buy something Cait didn’t need, or which wasn’t on The Approved List. They reasoned that ‘she deserved it’ or that a little retail therapy was no bad thing. In fact, this was tantamount to offering a reformed smoker a cigarette, a dieter a wedge of chocolate fudge cake, or an alcoholic ‘just one’ drink. Happily for her, a handful of true friends were on hand to help keep Cait on track.

Another potential drawback of a shopping ban is that you also have to deal with your own triggers. That is, if you’re working to achieve specific financial goals, avoiding putting yourself in situations where you might blow your budget is essential. For an abstainer, it has to be all or nothing.

As Cait writes, “The toughest part… was having to confront my triggers and change my reaction to them. It always felt like the minute I forgot about the shopping ban was the same minute I felt like shopping again.”

Why a written budget provides some flexibility

If you’re like me, you might prefer having some flexibility each month. That said, Cait certainly didn’t set out to veto all spending forever; it was, after all, an experiment.

What helps me is that I’m now really intentional in what I buy; getting on a written budget also avoids any feelings of self-deprivation. If we need something (in any category), we make provision on the spreadsheet for it. There’s no ‘forget it, I’m going to buy whatever I want’ and the extremes of a shopping spree or spending ban are avoided.

The middle ground

Where the ‘no spend’ philosophy might help is in cutting out expenditure that you know doesn’t add value to your life and which may impact negatively on your overall finances.

For example, if you regularly buy lunch out (perhaps at a cafe or by picking up a take-out meal), the cost of this soon adds up. Deciding to intentionally exclude things from your budget can help you achieve your financial goals. In a recent post, I discussed the idea that second-hand should become second nature; applying a ‘nothing new’ rule might be one approach to consider.

All or nothing?

I admire Cait Flanders’ forthright account. In applying her ‘no spend’ discipline, she not only learned a great about herself, but she lived on just a proportion of her income. This helped her not only to pay off debt but also to truly understand the important things in life.

Whichever route you choose, laying some ground rules (and getting accountability for your goals) will truly reap the benefits. And less is definitely more.


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Why buying second hand should be second nature

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For a number of years, my wardrobe has comprised around 50% secondhand clothing and 50% items that I have intentionally bought in the sale of brands I trust. Rarely do I buy clothing that is full price.

Since I follow the Project 333 approach, that’s roughly 16 items ‘new’ and 16 or so ‘second hand’ altogether. It’s more than enough and buying second hand is such a good thing to do.

Here’s why:

Second hand offers great value for money

Buying second hand a great way to buy what you need at a fraction of the cost of what the item would have cost new.

One of my more recent second hand purchases was a gently-worn and perfect-fitting brown suede skirt from Monsoon. It cost just £8. To go with that, I picked up a Mint Velvet cowl neck knit for just £1.66.

My most recent acquisition, which inspired this post, is a little black dress by Coast. I’ll wear this for a work-related ‘do’ in early March. It cost just £9.99 from eBay and I’m currently watching a co-ordinating pair of shoes whose starting price is £3.99. My whole outfit is likely to cost less than £15 overall. I had recently sold a number of dresses myself, so the direct cost of this purchase was far less than the actual sale price. Plus, I’m sticking to my principles of one in, one out.

Pre-loved is better for the environment

My heart sinks whenever I enter a store selling ‘fast fashion’. Like me, my teenage daughter’s on the lookout for value for money, but she’s far less likely to buy second hand. Whenever I enter one of these high street stores (which, mercifully, is seldom), I’m struck by the vast quantity of merchandise which, on closer inspection, often seems flimsy and of poor quality. We all know that the world has reached ‘peak clothes’ so it’s especially important to be intentional when we buy. What better way to signal that we care about the environment by doing so via what we wear? 

Gently worn supports great causes

We often moan that today’s high street consists mainly of coffee shops, estate agents, hairdressers and charity shops. Yet, we often fail to recognise the important contribution charity shops make to the causes they serve.

Writer and friend, Rae Ritchie,  is fashion ambassador to Myton Hospices Charity Shops. Not only do these shops offer great value for money, they’re supporting a much valued local cause.

To give you a sense of their importance, Rae explains: “Myton Hospices require £8.8 million per year to fund their vital end of life care at three hospices in Coventry and Warwickshire. Their 22 stores play an important role in raising that money.”

In terms of fashion finds, Rae tells me that Myton’s Coundon store currently has some Vivienne Westwood shoes. Her own recent buys have included a vintage leather handbag, some barely used yoga pants and a denim tunic that is being continually washed and worn!

Second hand is not second best

For kids (who grow so quickly you can almost see them sprouting upwards), second hand clothes are absolutely fabulous and definitely not second best.

When our daughter was tiny, we used to buy all her clothes from the NCT Nearly New Sale. As her mummy, I loved putting all the cute little outfits together, but never had to be overly anxious about anything she wore; nothing cost more than a couple of pounds.

Once you’re fully grown (and assuming you maintain a stable weight and size), it’s wonderful to be able to buy second hand clothing online, as you know what’s going to fit. Most brands are fairly reliable in terms of sizing, so you can bid and buy with relative confidence.

Where to buy

Fargo Village in Coventry is the perfect place to meet up with friends, enjoy a coffee and a browse in the Big Comfy Bookshop. While there, nip into Myton Fargo Village, Myton Hospice’s very cool and carefully curated charity shop (and you can get a sense of their one-off bargains by checking out their Instagram account).

Dress agencies are another way to find beautiful gently-worn clothes at great prices. I used to love Corina Corina in Warwick, as well as the aptly-named Savoir Faire in Kenilworth. Anyone remember them? Sadly, they’re no longer trading, but there are lots of alternatives, notably in Leamington Spa and Solihull.

Top tip: dress agencies only keep stock for a certain period of time. Once an item remains unsold after a number of weeks, it is either returned to its owner or passed to a local charity shop.

Here in the UK, eBay sales of second hand clothes are booming. I’ve both bought and sold over the years. Here’s where your knowledge of what fits really comes into its own; I know that a Phase Eight Size 10 is a pretty good bet if I’m buying a dress, for example.

Local Facebook groups are often great sources of second hand clothes, especially kids’ bundles. For buyers, there’s the nuisance factor of having to go and collect, but it’s free for both buyers and sellers, so there’s often a good deal to be had.

Let buying second hand become second nature

So, let buying second hand become second nature. You’ll be glad you did.


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Why I’m performing plastic surgery on my credit card

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Many years ago, I applied for a credit card that offered 2% cash back on all purchases. That was pretty generous, so you can tell how long ago that was!

Every month, we would use the card for all of our discretionary spending (that is, anything we bought on a week-by-week basis such a food, fuel and so on). We’d pay off the card every month in full. Then, once or twice a year, we’d get a decent cheque in the post with our cash back amount.

As we always paid off the balance in full, the credit card company actually made little money from us directly.

When I’ve used a credit card

I still have a credit card but I don’t use it for everyday purchases. Instead, I have used it for that one-off, occasional or unusual purchase such as our daughter’s prom dress.

However, because of the ease with which one can use a credit card in this way, there’s always a nagging thought in the back of my mind. Every time I do this (even for a relatively modest single item of expenditure), I‘m borrowing against next month’s income.

In effect, I’m creating a shopping hangover.

A change of heart

So, I’ve had a change of heart. The fact of the matter is this. If we’re going to win with money in the long term, this is what I’m going to do.

I’m going to perform plastic surgery on my credit card. Yes, I’m going to cut it into little pieces and throw it away.

Now, some of you still use your credit card in the way I used to. You tell me that you find it easier to track your spending this way (although, for me, I can’t understand this).

For me, it’s crunch time and here’s why.

What the research shows

Research shows that credit cards are ‘friction free.’ That is, handing over a card is less painful psychologically than handing over actual cash. In an article for Psychology Today, Scott Rick explains that people tend to spend more when they use a card than they do when handing over actual cash: “Experimental research….suggests that credit cards can stimulate overspending: People are often willing to pay more for the same product when using credit than when using cash.”

Indeed, Rick cites a range of psychological factors, which compel consumers to use a card over cash.

Even though I don’t put a lot on my card, I know that when I previously experimented by cutting up my card, I definitely spent less money overall.

Business Travel

“But what about business travel?” I hear you ask?

I once attended a work conference, which across the pond in Anaheim, California. I took my credit card for ’emergencies’ and actually ended up having to use it when I found my employer had failed to pre-pay my bill.

At my hotel’s reception desk, ready to check out, but fully expecting my account to have been settled, I learned that the transaction hadn’t gone through. Worse, the time difference between California and England meant that there was no-one in the office back at home to sort it out. I’ll admit that this was a time when I was glad I had my personal credit card.

However, this does not deter me from my plastic surgery. What I’d do in the future is request a corporate card, rather than rely on my own personal card, which required me to claim this expense on my return. No corporate card? No travel!

But a credit card’s for emergencies!

In my last post, I wrote about why I believe we all need an emergency fund.

In fact, a fully funded emergency fund should contain 3-6 months of expenses. So, if we have a fully funded emergency fund, we shouldn’t need to use the ‘shopping hangover’ method to cover unexpected bills.

The post-Christmas hangover

As the nation anticipates its post-Christmas credit card statements, I decided to do some research on card spending. What I learned really shocked me.

The UK’s spending habits

In October 2017, an article in The Independent warned that credit card lending was on the increase, in spite of warnings about the high levels of UK household debt. In the article, journalist Ben Chu cites regulators’ concerns about the extent to which households are turning to credit to finance their consumption.

Indeed, in the previous month, we saw headlines suggesting the UK was experiencing a ‘debt crisis’, as household debt had increased by 7% in the preceding 5 years.

Going slightly further back in time, the sheer volume of annual card sales is revealed in the UK Cards Association’s report of April 2017. I was staggered to read that, in the month of April 2017 alone, 315 million purchases were made on a credit card (up on the previous year’s figures by 41 million transactions). The overall total of money spent on a credit card that month was £16.8 billion (versus £15 billion the previous year).

What the hell were we all buying?

The report shows we’re using credit cards for a whole range of goods and services from food to fuel, with a marked increase in the use of cards (both debit and credit) over cash in these categories.

What if you have to use a card?

If you listen to Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus’ podcast, you’ll have heard them say quite clearly: “If you have to use a card, you can’t afford it.”

In my case, if I decide to use a credit card, I’m swapping convenience for a shopping hangover. And I no longer want to do that.


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Why we all need an emergency fund

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Happy New Year 2018!

January’s blog post theme

During the month of January, I’m going to be thinking about money, as we have set some specific financial goals for our family in 2018.

It follows that my blog posts may follow a bit of a financial theme in this first month of the new year.

Holiday listening

In particular, I’ve been listening to Dave Ramsey’s podcast over the holidays. Ramsey’s consistent, straight-talking and sound advice has benefited thousands of people worldwide and his simple series of Baby Steps has helped his readers, listeners and YouTube watchers get a grip on their finances and – in Ramsey’s words – “Change their family tree.”

Baby Steps

The Baby Steps help break down Ramsey’s plan into manageable chunks and build momentum. Indeed, the small wins that can be achieved early on in the programme through these Baby Steps help psychologically with motivation.

Baby Step 1

The very first of the Baby Steps is to start an emergency fund of $1000 (or, in the case of us Brits, £1000).

This should be done as fast as you can.

If you’re already a seasoned declutterer, you may find this easier than you think. A good rummage through your garage, wardrobe or loft may yield some excess stuff you no longer need, so you may soon be able to pull together the funds to get started.

If, like me, you’ve already learned to let go of stuff, freeing up unwanted items to contribute to this initial £1k may not be too much of a challenge. It may take only the effort of cleaning them up, photographing them, then listing them online on sites such as ‘Things for Sale in Kenilworth’ (our local community site on Facebook) or eBay.

Why Baby Step 1?

Ramsey’s approach is to establish this beginner’s emergency fund so that if you have a genuine and unforeseen expense, you won’t have to go into debt to pay for it. In a later Baby Step (#3), a fully-funded emergency fund of 3-6 months worth of expenses is put in place, but this starter fund is where we begin.

When you need an emergency fund

Between Christmas and New Year, we had a sudden and unwelcome fall of slushy, grey snow. We came down for breakfast the morning after Boxing Day and noticed something was odd about the hedge that usually sits against the wall by the side of our kitchen window. The supports to the hedge had given way in the wind and snow, so the prickly shrub had lowered itself forward over the border, covering all of the smaller plants and herbaceous perennials beneath.

Thankfully, with some significant effort (and 6 hours’ commitment), my lovely husband managed to shore up the woody stems, drill new supports into the wall, and push the hedge back into place.

However, this unexpected job reminded me that we weren’t quite as lucky when the fence blew down.

When the fence blew down

On the other side of the garden, we share a boundary with our next door neighbours.

One very stormy night two or three years ago, our shared fence decided it was no longer fit for purpose, leading to an unexpected but essential replacement. This cost about £375 per family, which our emergency fund was able to cover easily.

The point of this is that, whilst you’re taking steps to get your finances into good shape, the last thing you need is a mini-emergency to set you back.

In 2016, research by the charity Shelter found that 37% of working families in England could not cover housing costs for more than a month in event of job loss. Ramsey’s approach is designed to mitigate against this and putting an emergency fund in place is a first step in the right direction.

Do you have your emergency fund in place?

If you haven’t done so already, I’d encourage you to get your emergency fund in place.

So, when the metaphorical fence blows down, you’ll have the financial resources to deal with it. Plus, there’ll be no call on your emotional reserves either, as you won’t be stressed about how you’re going to pay for it.


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