Carole Crouch founded BFIT, a network of people in Bristol all working together to help people on low incomes keep on top of their finances. Here she answers Quids In!’s big questions
Q You’ve heard many stories about people struggling to manage on a tight budget. What should we be most aware of?
A There are two big issues. The first is taking loans to cover missed payments or to
buy essentials. It only increases our debt. It’s a quick fix but the worst thing to do, especially if we are desperate and take up a high interest loan. We have to get help as soon as we know we’ll have trouble making a payment or can’t stretch the budget any further.
Talking to someone helps. Sometimes we realise what we should do as soon as we chat to family or friends. The other risk is not saving because we think the odd penny won’t make a difference. I had a penny jar when my children were small. Every Friday I put left over pennies in it. I was too embarrassed to take these small amounts to a Credit Union or Building Society but I should have as I could have had interest paid to
me at the end of the year.
Q There are those who are trying to make money off people who have little to start with. How can we reduce the risk of becoming a victim?
A This is hard. Anyone who offers you help always seems like a friend, especially when you’re cornered by debt. I have my three golden rules:
1. Always look a gift horse in the mouth because horses are lovely but expensive to keep.
2. If something seems too good to be true, it usually is.
3. Never trust anyone who tries to sell you something on the doorstep. If they were that good, they wouldn’t have to stand in the rain for a living.
Listen to money expert, Martin Lewis. He says: “A company’s job is to make money from you. Your job is to stop it.”
Q How much help is available?
A Help is available in the form of free phone lines and websites. Having said that, while libraries often have computers available, not everyone knows how to use them. My personal favourites include the National Debt line on 0800 223 4188. They also have a website. Citizens Advice are a great place to seek help but are often really busy. Other good websites includes one for the Financial Conduct Authority and Martin Lewis’s Money Saving Expert.
Q At what point should we seek help?
A Most people know instinctively that they’ve reached the point when they need help. The tightening in your stomach is a give away. But money problems make us feel like naughty children caught doing something we shouldn’t, so we hide. I know I’ve hidden. What we should do is take steps to help ourselves.
Step One: Stop. Make a list of all the money coming in and a list of all the bills for essentials like food, rent, gas, electric, water, and so on. I’d make a third list of all the money I owe and who to. This gives a clear picture of where the money’s going, where to cut down or who to talk to about reducing payments. Step two: If you can make cuts or savings start now. Step three: Get help! Take the lists you made with you.
Q Who inspires you by what they do to help people manage their money?
A My financial hero is Martin Lewis. By developing the ‘Teen Cash Class’, he apparently sewed up the holes in my youngest son’s pockets, which his cash seemed to fall through. I also take my hat off to the amazing people at the debt advice agencies who work so hard every day to do what they can to get us all out of trouble.
I admire my youngest son for changing the way he thinks about shopping and for starting to save. At the same time I respect my two elder children who have been born with a knack for seeking out bargains and saving money.