"I love this woman, I wish there were more like her on TV, the rest of them are just too frivolous!" my boyfriend said excitedly halfway through Episode 3 of Channel 4's brand new series Superscrimpers: Waste Not Want Not. I knew exactly what he meant, when he'd reminded me she'd be on later that evening I'd widened my eyes and inhaled deeply like a five year old girl presented with a bar of candy because the show is a real treat.
There are three aspects to the show: 1) Mrs Moneypenny shows a family with a financial goal how they can achieve it, 2) Mrs Moneypenny and her army of Superscrimpers shows the rest of us how we can do better and 3) Merryn Somerset Webb gives us a few investment tips.
Episodes 1 and 2 showed families that were overspending by a large margin despite a healthy disposable income. I was frankly a little dismayed at how people can have such poor control over their finances, but hey, who am I to judge? Episode 3, on the other hand, showed a family failing to save enough for a deposit to buy their own house, again because they couldn't identify areas where they could cut back or indeed how they could juice up household income. A colleague watched the show for the first time last night (I've been begging him to) and thought it was pointless because everything was so obvious. However, is it? Common sense is not common to everyone (I paraphrase the French philosopher, Voltaire). We work in finance and as such, relative to the average person, spend a disproportionate amount of time thinking about money matters and so should be better placed to manage our money (I'd hope). Indeed,most of the worst money-handlers I know work in finance. If you grew up switching off lights, turning the tap off when you're brushing your teeth, switching appliances off at the mains when you're not using them - well then it becomes second nature to you. If not, having to change old habits is a real chore, you're ever tempted to revert to old ways.
The show has actually come at a very opportune time. The boyfriend and I have just recently come to the end of our first year of cohabiting and have been assessing our spending habits. It would have been very easy to slip into year two without stopping to do this evaluation but we did, and in the process discovered our electricity supplier had increased our monthly direct debit without informing us, all our insurers (home emergency and buildings insurance) were no longer the most competitive and we actually decided that some of the things that we look upon as base necessities should now be looked upon as treats.
Chief amongst the things that have moved into the "treat" pile for me is lunch: I now take my own lunch into work. I am allowed to buy lunch say once a week but I'm now in week 6 of this challenge and will be buying lunch for the very first time on Friday. I thought the whole lunch thing would be an insurmountable challenge because I've tried it before and it didn't work but on all the days I would have failed (pretty much all of this week) the boyfriend's been there for me.
Two weeks ago we stepped up our efforts by buying an electricity monitor and it has completely changed some of the things we do. It's straightforward to use, once set up it tells you how much electricity the house is currently using; you can then go around the housing switching appliances on and off to see how the energy consumption changes. The power shower completely shocked us - from a base of about 200kWh we were suddenly on 9,500kWh. To put that in money terms, we moved from using £20 per month to £900 per month in electricity usage just by switching the power shower on - given we both have two showers a day, it then became obvious why our energy bill had gone up since we'd moved to this house. Needless to say, that morning's shower was the last power shower I have had since, we now use the shower that's on our bath and frankly, I prefer it because I can get right in without waiting for the skin-scalding hot shot and skin-curdling cold shot that precedes every power shower.
I hope all of the Superscrimping tips will be compiled into an e-book because some of them are priceless. The best one so far involves placing stockings in the freezer before their first worn to stop ladders forming - hello? Why did I not know about this before, I'll save loads of time and money with that one tip alone. Yvonne is my favorite Superscrimper, she's really quite adorable, but she is so hardcore I don't think I could ever implement any of her tips - she cuts collars off her hubby's shirts when they're fully worn and sews them back on in reverse to double their life span. Saving money is good but when you work 12 to 14 hour days, saving time takes precedence.
There is a more subtle lesson to be learnt from Superscrimpers. The growth of the internet in collaboration with cheap and easy-to-obtain credit has made it so easy for people to spend money they simply don't have. I for one find it difficult to manage a credit card so although I can rack up airmiles and dozens of other benefits with it, I find myself spending more so I simply don't use one. Can Brits spend more wisely? Absolutely: as the chart below shows credit card debt jumped up by almost 500% from Jan-94 to its peak in Jan-10 so there's lots of room for superscrimping to reduce this debt mountain.
As for me, there are 30 minutes in the week when my boyfriend has only got eyes for Mrs Moneypenny, but that's okay because I feel the same!