Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Monday, 29 March 2010

How to Sew a Button

via youtube.com courtesy of www.esquire.com

What an uplifting video! Just what the doctor ordered for that depressing moment when your best shirt fails you. You too can become a Superman and overcome adversity, credit free!

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Moneyfesto: Knock knock

Who's there? The long arm of the lender – it's no joke. If we want to change irrevocably the appalling dichotmy of wealth and social stagniation that is modern day Britain we need to regulate against doorstep lending; to end it for good. 

If you've never been approached by a doorstep lender, then ask yourself why. The chances are that you're not living on minimum income, in or near social housing and don't have a low credit rating. It's important to note here that there is little to no distinction between poor and no credit rating, meaning that those who have no history present similarly to those who have bad. Indeed, it soon becomes appparent why the lack of social mobility is so prevalent in the UK.

There are those - and I don't blame their ignorance - who are proud to have no debts, who don't use credit cards and regard all lending with scepticism, which is great, of course, if you can afford it. Indeed financial literacy is great when you have the time and appropriate skills to work your way through the comparisons maze. But what if your talents lie elsewhere, or survival demands your attention?

What if circumstances were such that the world as you know it should change - you become redundant, a lone parent, a repossession statistic, what then? All you want is a virtual wallet in which to deposit your depleted income, not some package to exclusive benefits, when those from the State arrive piecemeal. Would you know how to get by? 

Could you cut it on sixty odd quid a week – scouring the supermarkets to feed a family for a fiver, only to consume more salt, fat and carbs than you ever thought possible? The things you used to buy, the lists you used to stick to, are beyond you. You've made every cut that some money saving expert recommends, yet no matter how slavishly you made it, the ends still don't meet.

When would you succumb, a few weeks, a few months, before grabbing at a solution to take you out of this mess? The papers you used to read say that's what these loans are for, and you echoed them, never thinking you'd have to live with the interest in such advice. Petrol goes up, food goes up, the kids' school shoes are falling apart and you think “It can't go on forever. I'll take a risk” - a risk you'd never have dreamed of taking before. 

If you're lucky, you'll get a visit from a legitimate lender, some sub-prime specialist like Provident, charging 500% APR or so (remember the pittance for your savings before they ran out) and if not - the unfortunate side effect of our allowing doorstep loans - a shark who will knee cap you as soon as entertain the notion of being paid a day late. Should you be susceptible to this lending lottery? Should anyone? No. So, if we can ban public smoking to protect the passive majority in this country, the Zero-credit Moneyfesto asks, why on earth can't we legislate to get lenders off our premises now?.

How to make popcorn

It really is that easy - and cheap!

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How To Darn A Sock

My mum always did this! Can't say I've darned many socks, because they've become so cheap to buy, but I've certainly darned the elbows of cardigans. Just in case you haven't twigged, the darning is in white yarn so you can see exactly how it works! When you darn in the same colour, the repairs are almost impossible to spot.

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Sunday, 28 March 2010

Natural Cleaning

Yup! Though white is best, using malt or wine vinegar works too, which is great when all a pop to the shops achieves is helping you part with a tenner unplanned... 

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Friday, 26 March 2010

Moneyfesto: prepaid charade

The news that basic bank accounts are to be guaranteed for all under the recent budget is most welcome, so why doesn't it headline the Direct.gov summary: How the budget affects you? For those facing financial meltdown or living on subsistence income, that which is most crucial seems buried amidst details of savings and pensions. When every thought is what will cost more, less or the same, surely savings and pensions tick the not applicable box?

The media slant is also interesting. For starters, coverage is fairly low key and the ususal prejudices and misinformation abound. Take the issue of not having a cheque book for instance – hardly relevant given they're about to become obsolete. Comments that some accounts restrict standing orders and direct debits comes across as yet another deterrent to anyone who may be considering a basic account, depsite this only applying to a minority of such accounts and most certainly not to those operable by bankrupts. Add to this the not so subtle aside that financial experts believe an increase in basic banking will herald the end of free banking and the justification for excluding those in poverty is achieved: the affluent majority will suffer if we promote accounts for all.

There is good reason for this. In the months since the credit crunch became stark reality with the advent of the Lehman's crash, the market for managed accounts and prepaid credit cards has seen a boon. Offering methodone for the masses who are hooked on credit, financial services have seized the opportunity to guide us back to the good times whilst stripping us of every fleeting penny that we own. Fool's gold cards and bogus basic accounts abound. Indeed the pitch for our custom seems to good to miss: "But supposing you could get hold of a prepaid credit card? It would come with all the benefits that a standard credit card had, but there would be no way that you could spend more than you could afford to, no matter how much you were tempted to!" 

Nothing more is offered than the facility to deposit a sum for which a range of transactions are then charged by fee or pro rata. So much for free banking...

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Moneyfesto: Government

A bit of a quick fix as Emma's car keys had been mislaid at work - found now :-) But as anyone who has grown up with a performance background knows, the show must go on. Zero-credit is too important a concept!

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Moneyfesto: PayDay Lenders

Okay, so the social media learning curve is pretty much vertical here at Zero-credit today, but check this, from YouTube - How PayDay loans push the middle class deeper into debt-1/2 (dare we publish 2/2 too? - your comments decide...).

The thing is that, whilst APRs at around 400% are being fought in the US, here in the UK, our media merrily accepts 2000% plus as par for the course. Heralded as something approaching a social service for the needy, we have to consider who the target market for payday loans really is.

Meet middle income Britain... an untapped market of huge potential! Who else is better equipped to heap scorn on the stigma associated with poverty and buy into the lie of apparent prosperity?

When only 10% of us earn more than £46kpa and 20% are officially on low incomes, that leaves an awful lot of people who aren't as "comfortable" as they think. £46kpa isn't a huge sum, least of all when average house prices exceed £200,000. Indeed, it only seems so, when so few of us earn it.

Perpetuating the myth that those on the breadline are cheats who commit benefit fraud makes the prospect of poverty so unbearable that any escape will do. Media led prejudices feed a dependence on credit that will sweep millions into a debt legacy, unless we say no.

The Zero-credit Moneyfesto aims to unmask the truth of sub-prime lending, for never has it been so profligate, so cynical. And to those who still think that the return from this kind of investment is viable, welcome to the Virtual Revolution!

YouTube: Abbot & Costello - It's Payday!

Kinda reminds me of the justification for APRs at 2000% or more, really...

Monday, 22 March 2010

Moneyfesto: Media Moguls

Andrew Ellson, Personal Finance Editor of The Times, followed me last week. I wish Simon Read at The Independent would do likewise - I'd give him a piece of my mind - giving with one hand and taking away with the other...

Take a look at his article condemning doorstep lending, but defending the extortionate interest rates charged on payday loans. http://www.independent.co.uk/money/loans-credit/simon-read-dont-forget-the-real-villains-of-ripoff-lending-1905096.html 

What can a national journalist possibly know about being so desperate as to give up a week's groceries for some extra cash over a week or two? 

More than you might think if they're a personal finance writer actually, for whilst direct experience of poverty may be minimal, knowledge of the financial products and services designed to protect consumers from such exploitation is not. To prove the point, here are a few links with which to update the currency columnists yourself:

The New Economics Foundation publication, Doorstep Robbery: 

the Let's STOP 2356% APR loans campaign:

National Press coverage of Credit Union Current Account launch in 2007:

The Zero-credit Moneyfesto opposes the trivialisation of debt and poverty in the media. The acceptance of financial products and services that are detrimental to the economic well being of the most vulnerable in our society cannot be tolerated. To those lucky enough to be paid for writing about finance when almost 20% of the population lives on low income, it is not okay to pay £14.75 to borrow fifty quid. 

Moneyfesto: Bank Charges

Last week, Ian Cowie, at The Telegraph, reported the most recent catch for folk trying to manage their money: HSBC plans to charge customers £15 a month for an account with a strict overdraft limit and £50 buffer for emergencies. It's not alone - others are planning to follow suit.

In line with the pay-as-you-go trend to help us all make ends meet, this little number will require precisely the same kinds of stringent self-discipline as a basic bank account, with the exception that if you opened the latter and placed the £180 a year saved on charges in an instant access savings account, you'd soon have more than fifty quid at your disposal to cover emergencies.

Secure in the knowlegde that only 10% of UK workers earn more than £44kpa, that around 14 million people live in low income households, that redundancies and pay freezes are high on the post-election agenda, not to mention that National Statistics project a Labour Force of some 32 million by 2020, I'd say that budget conscious consumers constitute a lucrative target market. 

Indeed, without the cash for a Euronomitor or Mintel report and market analysis skills that are over a decade out of date, forgive my crude guesstimate at a potential market volume of some 10 million consumers, forking out for a market value in the region of £1.8 billion. Perhaps a post-modern proverb is in order: “Look after the pennies and the banks will look after themselves”.

The Zero-credit Moneyfesto opposes the exploitation by High Street Banks of consumers seeking to manage their finances responsibly. The sale of products which incur charges for services that may readily be obtained free of charge elsewhere in the mainstream banking system is inappropriate to an industry owned predominantly by the Taxpayer. No bonuses for working that one out! 

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Job search

Direct.gov: finding a job provides a fairly basic job seekers' overview, which may jog the memory of anyone who has been with the same employer for some time.

The Guardian also offers an online careers service which is well worth a look. 

Rich in downloads, e-books and online since 2005, the New Life Network provides a whole host of alternatives to merely seeking more of the same.

However to speed up the return on your investments, it pays to know your digital tools:

jobs.ac.uk provides an excellent guide to using RSS feeds, for instance, bringing information directly to you and far faster than by e-mail.

Social media too, can cut your efforts to the chase:

upload your profile to the professional networking site LinkedIN 
follow Twitjobs (jobs advertised through Twitter plus many more)
or sign up for gist.com which aggregates information about contacts you may be approaching for work.

Expect these tips to change too, because social media moves fast!

Finally, once you've opened that oh so important door to a new job or business, try Businessballs for some great tips on securing a sale or selection. Good luck!

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Comparison Cites

Remember Amadeus? No? Try Shakespeare in Love, or A Knight's Tale. Perhaps Moulin Rouge does it for you? Romantic escapism from the humdrum of our lives – except that to varying degrees these films are peppered with real heroes – generations of inspiration without which we'd be poorer.

Now take your favourite artist and place him or her somewhere in The Matrix (I'm sticking with films for now) at some point before humanity is plugged in. Then again, perhaps you're a scientist or technologist, so you may prefer Marie Curie or Tim Berners-Lee. I shan't hold a difference of opinion against you!

For the sake of argument, let's say each of our esteemed artists, scientists or technologists is making money - not a great deal, just a comfortable amount - enough to get by. If you're familiar with Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, imagine that the bottom tiers are pretty much sussed - food, clothes and shelter, plus one or two relationships to share life's pleasures.

 

800px-maslows_hierarchy_of_nee

 

In a developed country like the UK, I'm hoping most of us have this too, not least when the Minimum Income Standard takes such needs for granted. Yet on Wednesday, The Guardian published details of an OECD report stating we have the worst social mobility of any developed country. Alarm bells should be ringing.

Taking a materiallistic view of what is needed to survive, there is nothing so remarkable about goods which meet basic needs. However we spruce them up, these are commodities which all of us use. Exclusivity may quite rightly seem the premise of the rich, but here lies the crux, for it is our creativity, innovation and inventiveness which makes this so.

To ignore the value of originality places the prosperity of all at risk. Amidst a prognosis of food and fuel shortage we are all the more foolish for perpetuating financial schism. Tied to incessant comparisons for basic needs - food, fuel and financal services - are we not wasting that most precious of energies our imagination?

What would your inspiration have achieved if he or she had to search and switch, year in year out, for the cheapest bank account, the lowest interest rate, the latest discount? Are we getting to a point where we know the cost of everything and the value of nothing?

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Basic Banking Bonus

Thinking of a prepaid credit card for yourself or your teen?

Looks like the FSA's Money Made Clear and Which? agree with me!

Basic Banks accounts can be a better bet - think of zero transaction charges and building a credit history for free as your bonus!

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Sunday, 7 March 2010

Jobless not cashless

When facing redundancy, it's as important to know your likely income as it is to know your rights. As useful as any final payment calculator may be, should finding another job prove difficult, awareness of your benefit entitlements will enable you to plan for every eventuality. Companies that claim tax refunds may well diversify into managing severance agreements, especially as recession deepens. Keep your money in your pocket, by knowing your options for free help and advice.

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Friday, 5 March 2010

Location... location

Environmentalists say turn the thermostat down, but if you are mobile, move somewhere warmer instead. Head south and the weather should do it for you - or inland, where there's no sea breeze. Closer to a city, ambient light kicks out a fair amount of heat. The Meteorological Office has forty years worth of data - so reap the credit free savings!

 

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Green loans aren't credit free

Property values may increase with an Energy Performance Certificate rated C or above, but thousands to fit a system, saving only hundreds a year can make for a long term loan indeed. Zero-credit is none too sure of the Government's planned "green loans" - 25 years is an awfully long time to pay back a few grand and from what we've seen of low impact living it pays to remember that a great deal of energy saving technology is aimed at a perceived growth market. This stunning house was built for around £3000 by Simon Dale who is now building an entire of village of these along with others at www.lammas.org.uk:
Zero-credit likes the honesty of insulating windows with cardboard boxes - a top credit free interim tip from The Touchwood Project. And from personal experience, polystyrene paper applied under lining and / or wall paper to insulate and tackle damp for around three quid a roll is also very effective, especially when you're a social tenant and not eligible for any grants or loans. For more ideas take an eco-tour, before you dish out on credit.
Penney Poyzer & Gil Schalom's Nottingham eco-home: http://www.msarch.co.uk/ecohome/
The Centre for Alternative Technology - http://www.cat.org.uk/index.tmpl?refer=index&init=1

 

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Self-sufficiency

Monday, 1 March 2010

Well hung!

So, that's another ConkerTU in the bag! Blogged an update about it over at www.conkertu.com. Some nice e-mails coming in after the event too. My son is 16 on Saturday and after three weeks of solid work on Zero-credit, ConkerTU, marking, planning and parents' evenings I hope you'll forgive my ducking out for a bit of family time after this post. Looks like I'll be baking most of the weekend too - chocolate and ginger fudge cake!

 

Perhaps the most rewarding part of the weekend for me personally was to talk in depth about the @2356percent campaign and doorstep lending with the Liberal Democrat contingency at ConkerTU. I must say I was well impressed with their knowledge of the issues and steps being taken to address them. Such a shame that the local party was suspended recently, when they are clearly doing such fine work, but then the finer points of party politics are lost on me. As an advocate of individual integrity, I just want to see representatives capable of intelligent discourse with one another and committed to the constituencies they serve. And I'm happy to say that was very much the impression I had of all the South Derbyshire and North West Leicestershire candidates. 

 

One great upshot since the weekend is the suggestion that a local husting might be held, inviting local people to question the PCCs. Apparently, given the occasion that ConkerTU gave them to talk to one another, the North West Leicestershire candidates have agreed in principle to such a debate. I must say that I find it immensely inspiring to serve as a catalyst to re-engaging the electorate. I believe passionately that most folk want to do the right thing and above all be seen to be doing it, thus the more we sling mud, sleaze and mistrust amongst one another, the more we debase our democracy. The media has a great deal to answer for in relation to low electoral turn out because now more than ever we need decent folk to be motivated to become involved in politics, not silenced by fears of some sordid exposure.

 

Irrespective of who wins or is likely to win at the next General Election, the task ahead is not going to be an easy or a comfortable one and we don't need the Paxmans of this world to unmask this self-evident truth. Indeed it may well be the case that we see no winners at all. Our economy is already so bipolar in terms of income and wealth that any policy which serves to cement this further is fundamentally flawed. We must look far deeper into our history than the Great Depression of the 1930s, for we are far from being in a dip within the last century or so. In a post-colonial era, which has endured centuries and not decades, we have no choice but to accept humility as our lot: recognition that the earth's resources cannot endure the infinite plunder of materialistic greed.

 

But such prognosis need not be downcast: within our culture, heritage and civilisation is the capacity for greatness and innovation too, for what else were the abolition of slavery and foundation of a welfare state? Each party has contributed to some aspect of social reform, and call me naive, but on this occasion, I'd quite like to see a parliament that is, well, hung!