Friday, 17 December 2010

Getting in and out of Debt(1) ??? Beginnings - Sally's Story

Getting into debt often happens gradually over time, just buying 'ordinary' things. That's the trouble, its easy not to notice until it is becoming a problem.

Sally's Story

Sally is 30 years old. She is an office administrator. She is a single Mum with two small children who need childcare whilst Sally is at work. Most of her salary goes on rent, childcare, food and household expenses, and getting to and from work. There is little money left for any extras.

 Sally has credit card for convenience, emergencies and to help cash flow. In the first six months, she  used it twice and has paid off the balance in full. She knows she can use it responsibly.

Sally works in an office and has to be smart. In September 2009 she needed a new coat for the winter as the one she had is shabby and thin. She saw a coat in the sales, a bargain at 50% off. She is expecting a bonus in her salary at Christmas time. So  she puts it on the credit card feeling she can pay it off over a few months.


Image by Idea Go

In October Sally's car failed its MOT and needed £375 spending on it. Most of the car expenses go on the credit card and she pays back the minimum. Thus she starts incurring interest on the card at 16.9%.

Sally decided it would be more economical in the long run to buy a new (second hand) car that will be more reliable to be sure she can get to work, and won't throw up unexpected expenses. They are offering a good deal on loans at the garage and she has a good credit rating. So she traded her car in and took out a 'credit agreement'. This has increased her monthly outgoings by £154.


Photograph by Bill Longshaw

Things were tight the following month her children needed some new clothes. Sally uses her overdraft facility on her bank account. She has stayed slightly later in the office a few times too and incurred a premium on her childcare costs, for picking up the children late. And Christmas is coming...

The cost of food and petrol have been rising and her childcare costs have increased. Sally is in danger of going over the overdraft limit. She is afraid of excessive bank charges so instead so she takes some cash out from her credit card. This helps to pay for toys for the children too, as she wants to make sure they have a good Christmas.



As the New Year begins, Sally is a little concerned at how things are going, but she feels she is in control. She is not doing anything that she does not have permission to do, it is all authorised and the bank and credit card companies are happy.

Then help comes through the post. She gets an offer for a credit card with six months interest free credit on balance transfers. Sally will transfer the balance and pay it off in six months at no interest!


Photograph by Michelle Meiklejohn

Sally's boss has indicated that they are pleased with her and she could be in line for promotion. She needs some new shoes and a suit to look the part to help her in her career. Her first credit card is now empty so it won't hurt to put a couple of hundred on it – after all it will be fine when her promotion comes through with the increase in salary so the debt now will be worth it......


Debt is rarely incurred by buying flash cars, expensive jewellery or similar, but by spending on much more everyday things that you can justify buying.

Please feel free to share your experience in the comments box below.

Photographs from

Whatever your debt situation, you are not alone.


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Wednesday, 15 December 2010

The customer is always right?

[vimeo w=500&h=283]

Nice work from Phil Stein and Sky1, especially on the explicit role of loyalty cards in gathering crucial customer information, but surely the answer isn't in the cognitive reinforcement of making a list and sticking to it?

Notice how the student guinea pigs failed to stay on task. It's small wonder so many of us are trapped in unmanageable debt, with impulse buying on this scale.

Most of the techniques profiled in this clip have been around for twenty years or more and our responses to them have become deeply entrenched as routines. If you really want to break the cycle, shop somewhere else.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Family Meals for Much Less than a Fiver (7) - Rice Pudding


Rice pudding is an easy and very inexpensive pudding. Made in minutes, it does need a couple of hours to cook. Cost for a pudding for 4-6 people is about £1.40.

110g pudding rice

900ml full fat milk

55g sugar

25g butter

pinch of nutmeg

Margarine for greasing


Grease an oven proof dish. Place the pudding rice in the dish. Add the milk and sugar and stir well. Place small knobs of the butter around the pudding. Sprinkle the top with nutmeg.


Place in the oven for about 2 hours at 150 degrees C. Stir after the first 20 minutes to ensure rice is not sticking together.

The pudding is ready when it has a creamy texture and is brown on top. Serve with jam and evaporated milk.


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Live blogging!

My, Zero-credit has come a long way from an idea for a book in a council house bedroom! Today we were commissioned to live blog the East Midlands ESF conference for the All in One Project - not to mention presenting the finished All in One website.


Aware of a vaccuum for EY2010 content across social media, at the end of August, the All in One Project decided to use digital media to raise the profile of the Poverty Convention, as a focus for live debate. We were also hoping to connect with other EY2010 projects nationally, so we could harness the momentum of discussion around poverty and social exclusion, creating a legacy for the future. The Bevan Foundation, a connection made through social media, has been extremely amenable to this.


On average, around 1 in 318 Twitter users repeat content, generating an average 1.5 additional site visits. Thus, within a six week timescale, our task was to focus attention on key influencers, who might support EY2010 and drive a live digital audience to the Poverty Convenvtion stream. In the days immediately before, during and after the Poverty Convention there were some 17 retweets and mentions using the #povcon hashtag from users with an average Klout of 48 (ours is 26). Several were East Midlands or neighbouring South Yorkshire based, many were well respected digital commentators and some were key figures from the wider not-for-profit sector. We even had one retweet from the US and perhaps most satisfyingly, one of the young people involved in creating a video for us was able to follow events on the day from her 6th Form College.


A week after the convention, the blog site we had created to record events leading up to and at the Poverty Convention had received some 10,000 site visits and by the end of November that number had increased to 12,750. Individual posts relating to specific places, Mansfield and Bolsover for instance, have been viewed in excess of 5,000 times. Much of this traffic may be attributed to interests in individual post topics, such as a town or a specific issue like working age poverty, and may well satisfy a passing interest. The point is that the currency of our content is still very much alive.


Ultimately, the process of applying digital media to the Poverty Convention has demonstrated dynamic potential to create a thriving legacy for continuing the dialogue started in 2010. For this reason, as an All in One Project plenary, we have transferred all content and networks to a new user interface, capable of sustaining and extending the relationships and connections forged in 2010, so that we may continue to combat poverty and social exclusion well into the next decade. The gateway to this may be found at


Friday, 10 December 2010


Throughout the European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion, I have been troubled by one concept – the desire to lift me out of poverty. I feel silenced and subjugated, my dependence determined by another's articulation of my needs. More than anything, I seek the opportunity to forge my own success. Yesterday, that potential was entirely blown away.


For almost eighteen years, I have strived to provide better for my child than my parents did for me. Coming from an insolvent household, I sought employment to make up for the losses of a depleted inheritance, only to find one circumstance after another requiring me to recreate plan B. I still have no savings to bequeathe.


In the immediate term, the costs of university are no longer upon me. Gone are the frantic calculations of how much I need to earn: my child may attend, deferring repayment for some time. But this decision leaves him worse off than I am now, for every step forward will take him two steps back: because he has this, he may no longer have that and thus the fruitless treadmill to asphyxiated aspiration continues. I feel betrayed.


As parents, is it not our duty to nurture our young? Yet in my generation, which enjoyed free education with benefits on top – we were able to claim unemployment at the end of the summer term – I see nothing but avarice and greed. Leeches of the buy to let bonanza sapping the first earnings of the newly qualified from accommodation once owned by the state.


Because I dare to pop my head above the parapet, is my poverty not abject enough for you? Must I, at every hurdle jumped at my own initiative, find others set by those who encountered none? What is it that you want? To absolve yourself of the material rape from which you profited, by weakening me to a compliance in which with effortless benevolence you may lift one who has lost the appetite for your diet?


Thursday, 9 December 2010

BIS evidence submitted

Phew! 146 responses later and we have submitted our evidence to the BIS review of responsible borrowing and lending. You can find our results by subscribing to the Information Service, where we publish all of our work in full. Perhaps of most interest to us though, in comparing savers and debtors views of credit was the extent of financial illiteracy across the board. We suspected that government and the finance sector use such a broad range of terms to describe high cost credit that consumers have little to no chance of keeping up with it, and we were right.

Tiramisu with a sweet surprise

Tiramisu is a classic pick me up desert which has been my all time favourite desert. It can be done under a £5 budget to serve 12 people. May be a little over ;) but I really, really tried and made the effort to search for the best deal in the supermarket to keep this in the £5 budget. As the festive season is ahead of us, we are always after some quick but delicious ideas to serve plenty in the house. I like adding, or changing tiny bit the classic recipes to surprise my guest. This time, I added raspberries in it which fit in perfectly with the creamy taste of the mascarpone and the chocolate.

So there you go The ingredients:

6 eggs separated
6 spoons of sugar
2 cups of strong coffee
2 packets of sponge fingers
400g of mascarpone cheese
2 spoon full of cacao powder

Separate the eggs. Whisk together the egg yolks and the sugar until thick and creamy,
In another really clean bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form.
Add the mascarpone cheese to the yolk mixture and stir well until smooth and thick.
Gently fold the whisked egg whites into the cheese - egg yolk mixture.

Dip the sponge fingers into coffee and place them on your dish pour half of the mixture
over the biscuits. Sprinkle cacao powder and place the raspberries.
and repeat with the mixture and cacao and cover the dish with cling film and refrigerate
for min of four hours.

Et voila bon appetite! see you next time with a Turkish vegetarian dish Enjoy the good food.



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Wednesday, 8 December 2010

SRA Conference

Business Development Director, Emma had a great day out at the British Library in London for the annual conference of the Social Research Association. Whilst it is a great shame to see so many budgets for longitudinal studies cut, it gives us great hope that our collaborative and participatory research model has potential. And it was inspiring to meet so many researchers committed to getting the most of out data - there were some really creative ideas up for discussion.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

A Week of Eating Frugally

With Christmas coming and the potential to buy food and drink, beyond your normal means, it is good to have a week or two of living frugally so you go easy on your purse. 

Here are some really cheap and easy recipe suggestions for some simple living.It's all great comfort food for these cold evenings too!

I use cheese a lot, usually a mature cheddar. There is nearly always 2 for 1 offers in supermarkets meaning you can get 800g mature cheese at around £4 - excellent value!

1. Pasta and Pesto


 75g-100g Pasta of your choice, per person (around 60p total).

Jar of Pesto sauce. (£1-£2 per jar - serves 4)

Optional - Olives, grated cheese, salad, coleslaw

Boil pasta in plenty of water for 10-15 minutes depending on the texture you like.  Pesto can be spooned in directly to the pasta.

Serve as it is, or add grated cheese, olives. Serve with salad or coleslaw if desired.

2. Baked Potatoes

One large potato per person (80p total for 4).

Choose from Baked Beans, grated cheese, coleslaw, sweetcorn, tuna.

Bake in the oven for 90 minutes or until soft in the centre. Serve with a knob of butter and your favourite filling (or two)

3. Cheese Potato

For 4 people

750g potatoes.

150g cheese


Peel potatoes and chop. Boil in plenty of water. When soft drain. Add splash of milk and knob of butter. Mash with a masher adding more milk if too dry. Stir in cheese reserving about 25g. Put mixture in casserole and bake and sprinkle remaining cheese on top. Bake in oven at 180 degrees for about 25 minutes.

Serve with a vegetable, frozen peas or sweetcorn.

4. Pasta with Peas and Cheese

75g-100g Pasta shapes per person

1/2 cup frozen peas per person

25g grated cheese per person

Black Pepper

Boil the pasta for 5 minutes until soft. Add the peas to the pan and bring back to the boil. Boil for a further 10 minutes. Drain. Stir in the cheese. Sprinkle with black pepper.

5. Pizza with extras

Basics Cheese and Tomato Pizza £1

Basics Pineapple Pieces (13p)

Green chilli (optional)

Herbs and black pepper

This is about buying a basic pizza and adding toppings of your choice. Most supermarkets do a basic pizza, or even just a pizza base to start from scratch.

Cheese, pineapple and chilli is a favourite in our household but clearly you can add what you wish. Could be ham, Pepperoni, onion, sweetcorn.

Do let me know what variations you come up with! 

6. Bean Stew

Serves 4


1 onion, chopped      18p

1 tomato                    10p 

I garlic clove

400g tin cannellini beans   50p

400g tin haricot beans       50p

400g black eye beans       50p

500ml vegetable stock

Mixed herbs

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp coriander

Chilli powder (optional)

Fry the onion in olive oil until soft and then add the garlic and tomato. Drain the beans and add to the pan with the stock. Add the herbs and spices, adjusting to taste.

Serve with crusty bread.

7. Cauliflower Cheese

Serves 4

Cauliflowers are plentiful in the winter - and cheap. If you can, go to your local green grocers or farmers market. Cheese sauce is easy to make using Delia Smiths all in one approach.

1 large cauliflower      80p

100g mature cheddar  50p

700ml milk

50g flour

50g butter

Cut the cauliflower into florets and boil or steam until just soft. Place in a large casserole dish.

To make the cheese sauce, place the cheese, milk, flour and butter in a saucepan and gently heat to boiling stirring all the time with a balloon whisk. Cook for a minute once boiling.

Pour over the cauliflower and add a little more grated cheese on top.

Bake in the oven at 180 degrees fro about 30 minutes. I enjoy this best with boiled peas.


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Friday, 3 December 2010

Are you ready for Christmas?

We have reached that time of year  when people start to worry about being ready for Christmas. What does this question mean? How do you know when the answer is 'yes'.

Christmas will certainly arrive on time on December 25th. Many people will have spent too much money on gifts that nobody wants, food that will go straight in the bin and drink that has given them a headache. But before you think I am a complete cynic about Christmas, its only the pressure to spend money that I hate. The pressure on people to max out their cards so they can buy presents that they feel the people they love deserve. 



DON'T spend more money than you have in the bank, after paying your routine bills. And you can still have a fab Christmas - better because you won't have that sinking feeling as you look around you and wonder how you will pay for it all. Tell your loved ones that you are only doing very small gifts this year - and not to buy for you either - you may be surprised at how relieved they are!

Small gifts, thoughtfully given, beat any amount of money spent. Favourite food, home baking, a promise to do something special, a photograph, are better gifts than perfume and jewellery every time! 

And for someone you love, no amount of money spent will ever be enough, because love and our loved ones are priceless. 


Personally, and I know I am not alone in this, when I look back on Christmas's past it is not the presents and food that I remember most, but the time spent with people and the laughter (and tears!). It really doesn't matter if you buy Harrods luxury Christmas pudding or Sainsbury's basics, whether your have a table decoration or some fancy tablecloth or your Christmas tree is decorated in 'this years' colours. It is who is sitting round the table and eating dinner that matters.

Recent Guardian article on having an extravagant or thrifty, Christmas

Spend time with people - and have some time for yourself. Be as giving of your time, smiles and help as possible. Talk to your nephew, uncle, Great Aunt that you haven't phoned all year. Play a game with the children, watch a film with your Grandma. Make a date to meet up with your school friend you haven't seen for years. And then curl up with your favourite book or film.

You will be amazed at how much better you feel!

Are you ready for Christmas?


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Thursday, 2 December 2010

Ooh! Aah! Cantona!

There is a growing sentiment of frustration with the banking system, fuelled by the fear that collapse in the Eurozone may cost more than a few million jobs and cutbacks before the year is out.

Eric Cantona's answer is to have it out - your money that is. His "Kill the Banks" campaign for mass withdrawals on December 7th is designed to grind the system to a halt. But revolution is not the preserve of the French: in the States, perfectly respectable middle class households are simply not repaying the mortgages they can no longer afford.



It's populist, appealing even... But is it right?

The first people to suffer the inevitable chaos that a lack of cash flow will bring are the elderly, infirm and benefit dependent - those who are sitting in cold homes right now, waiting for the next payment to recharge a meter key or to put food on the table. Precisely how fair is it to grind the system to a halt two and half weeks before Christmas, when everything shuts down anyway, with a blanket of ice and snow sweeping our countries and transport unable to move?   

We've just spent an entire year trying to combat poverty and social exclusion across Europe and the job is by no means done. Winter fuel deaths are a very real concern and with energy prices increasing and freak weather at the start and now also the end of this year, there'll be many more of these chilling statistics in 2010. So, before you claim a bloodless revolution, Mr Cantona, spare a thought for those who cannot afford your call to action - le pauvre con qui est plutot le #povcon d'EY2010.