Friday, 28 October 2011

In the market for credit freedom?

Cash is king and here's why!

Markets are the best, as old as the hills yet still quirky and modern and brimming with alternative lifestyles. Big towns have great markets: Birmingham, Swansea, Glasgow, Leicester, Newcastle, Darlington, Leeds - and they keep up with the times. Leeds’ Kirkgate has had an interactive stall finder for more than three years now!

In London, try Berwick Street in the depths of Soho since 1778, offering a dose of your five a day when you’re shopping in the West End. 

Berwick Street Market (dates unknown) via

has superb meat, fish and poultry, making it an ideal stop for a pre-Christmas jaunt. Swansea is marvellous for Welsh lamb and lava bread, not to mention those sexy nylon pinafores we all yearn to wear when dusting, while Glasgow’s Barras boasts a ballroom on site!

In Newcastle, where the night-life gives our most liberated European cousins a run for their money, streets throbbing with clubbers at three are all swept up and washed down for stalls to be set up by five. Never mind “Go large”, go Bigg instead!

Smaller towns that are rich in history have iconic market status: Oxford’s covered market is a little pricey, though not compared to anywhere else in town. Cardigan’s Medieval market hall has Hoover bags, souvenirs and joss sticks to delight - all rubbing shoulders with home baking and locally reared meat.

Farmers’ markets have been on the increase in recent years and both Farma and Farm Direct have good information about who produces what, where, when and how.

Some farmers offer e-commerce so you never have to leave home - not bad if your car needs a SORN because you can’t afford your road tax just yet. Try Big Barn to see if you’re on a route for local produce to be delivered. The supermarkets didn’t invent door step delivery, you know!

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Sunday, 23 October 2011

All heart in the home


We’ve been big fans of charity furniture and electrical stores since we started in June 2009, so you can imagine our joy when we spotted this High Street branch of the British Heart Foundation, specialising in second hand home wares.


Apparently there are 120 of these stores now and to find one, their website is simple to use too. Just tap in your postcode and it will map all the local stores for you. There’s no need for Brighthouse with the British Heart Foundation on your side! Good for your ticker and your pocket, due credit, BHF!



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Saturday, 22 October 2011

Lies, damned lies and banking

Hurrah! The Treasury Select Committee gave the Payments Council what for when they overturned the decision to phase out cheques!

Not so fast! You see the humble cheque guarantee card had already been pulled, creating notices like this in Post Offices across the land.


Far from performing a U-turn, three months since the change was implemented, rural folk, who depend on post offices still cannot pay for Homecare, Meals on Wheels or energy tokens with a cheque. A result for whom?


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Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Look out banks, we're coming!

It would be a good idea for the banks to sit up and take notice of what’s happening around the country as people are gradually understanding the benefits of Credit Union membership and hedging their bets in many cases or, in a few, moving their accounts entirely over to their local Credit Union.

We recently had a regular saver of small amounts suddenly realise that our Credit Union had paid 1.5% in dividend on accessible savings last year when she was only getting 0.25% on her bank-based savings account and so she transferred her whole £10,000 to her Credit Union account. Her bank manager was startled and queried the decision and she quite enjoyed explaining her rationale.

Banks are in a quandary at the moment, struggling for profitability and failing to win back the public’s trust because they live in a world where top banking employees demand and get massive salaries and vast bonuses and they don’t know how to keep them unless they do the same. When they’re using the public’s bail-out money to fund these, it’s understandable that the public gets a bit miffed.

When members of the public start to realise that their local Credit Union can offer them a decent deal at the start of their relationship and increasingly great deals as time goes by, more and more of them are getting involved. Dividends tend to be better than most easy access savings accounts can offer because there are no fat-cat salaries to pay, no shareholders creaming off the top – all the surplus goes back to the members! 

The service in most Credit Unions (often almost wholly run by volunteers) is friendly, patient, non-judgemental and completely personal to you. There are rules, of course, but Credit Unions will go out of their way to find a workable solution that meets your particular needs, without any extra charges, just because that’s what they do.  If you just want to deal over the phone or, in increasing numbers of Credit Unions, online, that’s also an option. Why wouldn’t you use a Credit Union?

A bill is about to be passed which will allow for more expansion of Credit Union territory, the ability for Credit Unions to take deposits from organisations, not just individuals and a whole host of other options which will make Credit Unions even more attractive to wider audience from January 2012. If, in addition, a current government feasibility study has a positive outcome, there will be exponential growth in the Credit Union movement and everybody should soon have access to one, wherever they are in the UK and the underpinning technology will enable them to compete on a more level playing field for personal banking services.

So, banks, if you’re reading this, you need to buck up your ideas, your ethos and the way you treat you account-holders because we’re coming for your customers!


This is the personal view of Claire Walters (@WFCCUClaire) and not necessarily that of Waltham Forest Community Credit Union.


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Thursday, 13 October 2011

Bogof Banking from the Coop

We're great fans of co-operatives and a big fan of the Coop Bank here at Zero-credit. Can you imagine our excitement when we found out they've been planning the ultimate bogof with in store banking?! Here, the lovely Nuala tells us more...

A New bank in town - the Co-operative opens an instore bank in Cranbrook 

Cranbrook will this week get a new instore bank in town when The Co-operative Bank opens its doors to the public at their new instore bank inside the Co-operative Food store on the High Street. 

This new bank will offer a full range of retail and business banking services to Cranbrook’s 6,000 residents. It is one of five instore banks to be opened by The Co-operative this year as part of an eighteen-month pilot. If successful, several hundred instore banks could be rolled out across the UK. 

Nathan Griffiths, Branch Manager at The Co-operative Bank in Cranbrook, said: “Our new bank will give us the opportunity to provide a different banking experience for the residents of Cranbrook. Our aim is to provide personal banking in the most convenient way to customers, and by bringing our bank and food store under one roof, we can achieve this.” 

“We aspire to be a branch that focuses on doing the right thing, right for our customers and the local community, making sure that we are meeting customers’ needs above everything else. Cranbrook is a small community and we want to be involved in it.”   

The Co-operative Group currently operates more than 2,800 food stores and 345 bank branches under The Co-operative Bank and Britannia brands.


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Tuesday, 11 October 2011

It's OUR Money - Westside from Wall Street!


Due credit to our cousins across the pond who have taken to the streets in a bid to remind the power houses of world finance that it's our money. Find out more at:

You know, one of the first things we said about ourselves when we formed our coop was: you can throw us on the scrap heap and we'll all go bust, or buy our information to keep us spending sustainably... (in case you're new to Zero-credit, we track people's behaviour with money). Some people just don't get it though...

Treated as consumers when we're in the market for credit, you'd expect us to have similar rights when it all goes wrong - not least when there are an awful lot of people who got it wrong. My, my, if there were as many forecasters and experts preaching caution back in 2007 as there are now, we might not be in such a mess.

An "awful lot of people" is the key to this crisis and we need to stand firm in the certainty that it's our money - nothing more than a token that pays our day to day living expenses.

When you throw people on the scrap heap of homelessness, hypothermia and hunger, well, I predict a riot. In The Welfare Costs of Personal Debt we demonstrated the impact of our economic lending for spending policy on the public purse - housing, health, education - and that's on top of the bailout funds.

Already we're seeing pension pots drop by a third, lifelong savings crumbling against inflation. Yet anyone lured into a patriotic spending spree is rewarded with unauthorised overdraft, account and ATM charges on the money they have. Oh, it is thoughtful banking indeed when you're a quid short for less than 24 hours and pay £20 plus interest for the priviledge...

For the money we don't have, the show must go on. Payday APRs have increased from some 1500% in 2008 to 4000% or so in 2011... Has it not occured to anyone that in the midst of recession, a market that Consumer Focus said grew by 400% in the four years to 2010, and that the CAB says has created four times the number of debt problems in the last two years might be eating away at our spending power?

Cameron was a fool to edit that speech, and for complaining that he is simply too rich to say such things, his critics are fools also. Fees for financial services are sucking us dry and it is high time we reminded ourselves that it's OUR money.


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Sunday, 9 October 2011

Just the season ticket!

If you think about it, the choice between car, bus or train is a nonsense! We never seem to consider the nature of a journey, the number of passengers, the load, frequency or distance we need to travel before thinking about a journey’s comfort or style. Routine imprisons our pockets too.

The trek to work is a classic case in point - marred with monotony, we drive ourselves into a state of solitary confinement so often in excess of need. Short of changing job so we can live and work within walking distance, the expense of commuting is inevitable. All the more reason to examine it.  

Commuter journeys present themselves as packages, their repetition and frequency conditioning us to accept our route from A to B. Our desire to arrive fit for work creates a fear of alternatives informed only by a lack of familiarity. We assume that nothing can change.


What difference can creditfree commuting make?
When we do not ask: can I arrive earlier, leave later, work from home; or is there a car share, cycle scheme or shower I may use, we allow travel to affect both our competence and capacity to work. Living costs increase, so we hope for a pay rise, becoming less motivated when we cannot or do not receive it.  

As a nation in debt, we should welcome initiatives that help us to ride the storm. Alternatives that enhance staff benefits can boost recruitment and retention. Too often, we stick rigidly to notions of cost, without exploring other methods for achieving our goals. We lose our capacity to innovate and be creative, when we accept the humdrum of every day life.

The reality of A to B is that it could pass via any combination of C to Z
How do we know whether another route is more convenient, if we do not travel though places where a journey could take us? How can we tell if the trade off is cheaper, shorter or more comfortable if we do not try it? Route change may be just the kind of energy boost or efficiency saving our workforces need - at no-to-low cost to employer or employee too.

Faced with increased travel costs, surely it’s time to look for savings elsewhere? 
Avoid cramped carriages and endure discomfort for less time, when you get out and walk from a stop that is further from your destination. Perhaps you can liftshare to a station or for your whole journey, or swap your pass the time paper for a one off investment in an electronic device? If you don’t ask yourself - and your employer - these questions, you’ll never crack the code to staying in and not out of pocket. 


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Image: vegadsl /

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Dramatic DIY


Coming from a theatrical family, I’ve made stage sets from all sorts in my time. I think little of dressing my entire residence - swathes of cheap fabric to hide recesses fitted with clothes rails instead of wardrobes, sheets of bubble wrap saved from the delivery of a new mattress and glued around the shower fitting instead of tiling. It all comes in handy.

Dream on
When I first moved into our council house, I was given a redecorating grant – ninety quid for five rooms, as I recall. My son had grand designs and after losing our own property, I thought well, why not - we’d lost everything else - why shouldn’t our dreams come true? Inspired by a friend who had turned his toilet into a cave with papier maché and chicken wire, we set to work.  

Child’s play
Hearts set on the Jurassic period, we painted a jungle with dinosaurs and volcano, complete with trees bearing skeleton leaves sprayed green. I found some cheap camouflage nets in an army surplus store, which we tacked around the bedroom and draped over some old rose arches for a den. I drew the outlines, whilst my son sponged in the shading and threw “lava” all over the ceiling.

Create your creditfree
Sample pots are a great ally to your creativity, as is keeping old remnants to blend with whatever you can lay your hands on, when it’s time to refresh your decor. Try not to have a fixed idea in mind and be flexible with your materials. I once sold a whole load of old sheet music to a fellow car booter for wallpapering and there is nothing to stop you using newspaper or magazine pages like this too.


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Image: Salvatore Vuono /

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Savings up... debts down... creditfree!


When you’ve borrowed against an income you may never earn, fear dominates your reality until you become the failure you perceive. Step back from the resource you have, to look at other ways of financing it. Borrowing is NOT your only option.  

Save money where you spend it most
Make regular savings on household spending, using our creditfree categories:  finance, propertytransportleisurehouseholdfashionwelfare and communications

Unsure if the national profile matches your household outgoings?
Pick a DIY budgeting tool to pin-point where most of your money goes, then focus your efforts on the big spenders first. Attempt only one or two at a time, mind you, or you’ll be setting yourself up to fail...

Quit knee jerk denial to avoid benders and binging
Long periods of denial can result in what psychologists call the “what the hell effect”, doing more harm than good. Rotating your efforts means you’re less likely to overcompensate when you do feel hard done by.  

Creditfree not for me?
If you haven’t enjoyed cutting back on a particular category, then for goodness sake don’t just grin and bear it. Contrast a challenging month with some modest celebration, then move on to another creditfree category.

Use nice, round figures to make sums easy
Aim to reduce one area of household spending by around a tenth to a quarter, building this up gradually if your need to cut back is not urgent - no hard feelings if you don’t quite make it yet. Creditfree works best by trial and error, as you learn what you can live without.

At the end of your first month
Pay at least half of your new found wealth into reducing any existing debt. Split the remainder between a reward you would otherwise put on plastic, a charity donation, or savings  - an emergency fund if you don’t have one, a pot for large ticket items or a long term nest egg. 

Due credit!
When you switch to creditfree living there’s no money to pay back, no charges - so why not give yourself credit for what would otherwise end up in someone else’s interest?


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Image: thanunkorn /

Bring on the champers, Debtology is live!


Debtology Ltd is proud to announce the launch of the Debtology interactive debt advice smartphone application. This app will help thousands of people every year get bespoke advice and assistance with their financial difficulties. The first ever app of its kind, it replicates the independent face to face debt advice process through an intuitive, easy to use process.    

Sim Ilyas, Debtology Founder and Managing Director says: “Problematic debt remains a huge contributor to poverty in the UK. The root causes of debt are complex and widely misunderstood. Debt problems affect individuals, families and children and often stem from unexpected life events such as ill health and relationship breakdown. The fundamental factor in whether an individual feels able to cope is often the availability of independent advice”.  

“We have created a brand new channel of advice delivery through our smartphone application. People can now discreetly and efficiently obtain bespoke advice and take proactive steps towards improving their financial situation. Debtology will help people make genuine progress and not just continue with typical avoidance tactics”.  

The only charge associated with the process is the nominal payment for downloading the app (£1.49). App users are guided through an advice process and offered a range of recommendations on strategies they might adopt to help improve their financial situation. App users are also given a range of suggestions regarding organisations which can help them take the next step.  

Debtology is always interested in hearing from people who would like to work in partnership - please contact You can find out more about Debtology at their website


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Tuesday, 4 October 2011

And the point is?

Ever since they were invented, I’ve had a bee in my bonnet about loyalty cards. "I’m inherently disloyal" I declare at the checkout, which always raises a few eyebrows.

As a young researcher, I witnessed the invention of scanners and quickly realised the revolution they were going to create. Correlating every purchase to your age, socio-economic status, where you live and back to the frequency of every item you have ever bought, loyalty cards are great if a relationship is what you really want.

Loyalty had been around for a while, of course. As a small child, I remember my Granny painstakingly sticking her Green Shield stamps into books that grew fatter by the month, then trading them in at the glitzy showroom in Amanford. We’ve swapped licking for swiping - there’s progress - but stamps were simple, they rolled out of the till, no questions asked. 


In the seventies and eighties, my Dad collected cigarette coupons - crystal cut tumblers from the Benson and Hedges catalogue. I’m sure they were called Gold Points - my brother and I were so impressed. We both grew up to be smokers and though the vouchers weren’t all there was to it, the opportunity was sure as hell golden.

I prefer the spend fifteen pounds on fuel and get this for only three quid kind of offers, myself. You need fuel and either want the deal or you don’t - it’s an honest, one night stand of a ploy. Otherwise, what goes in, on and out of my body is entirely my affair, no matter much cashback you have to offer.


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Image: Bill Longshaw /