The ABC of banking, accents…and blinking robots: this week on Share Radio’s Young Money Show

School banks and young people’s attitudes to money were centre stage this morning as Iona co-hosted the weekly Young Money Young Rights show on the newly-launched Share Radio.

Iona began by reminding train travellers that they can claim for delayed journeys, and commented on today’s news stories on the state of the housing market and the cost of private education.

Following up on the Archbishop of Canterbury’s plans for an initiative in schools to get young people more clued up about finance, and prevent them resorting to payday lenders, the show went to Eastbury Comprehensive in Hampstead to sound out the views of teenage pupils. They talked about lessons on banking, budgeting, and the minimum wage.

Today’s guest was Geraldine Walton, education officer at MyBnk charity, which delivers money workshops to 11-25-year-olds and has worked with 100,000 young people in the past seven years.

MyBnk makes money lessons fun. “What we don’t do is go in and tell them how things are, we get them involved,we make it relevant to what they are doing right now in their lives,” Geraldine said.

Asked by Iona whether banks should be allowed to go into schools given the risk that they might market their own products, or whether this was part of what kids needed to know, Geraldine said: “There can be some issues around banks wanting young people to become their customers so I think it’s important they get independent advice.”

She said the programmes aim to “ encourage young people to become informed consumers”. The most popular is the bank’s Money Twist programme for 11-16-year-olds (three 100-minute sessions) but there is a university finance programme for sixth-formers too. There are also student-led banking schemes across London which train youngsters ‘how to be bankers and they share that information with the rest of the school’.

Asked by co-host Georgie Frost why it had taken so long to get money onto the school curriculum, compared with the likes of sex education, Geraldine said families “don’t have open conversations about money”, and it is an awkward topic among friends.

“But we are realising that years down the line there is huge consequences for not having enough knowledge to make sound financial decisions…what we do at MyBnk is preventitive.”

Geraldine admitted: “There is a lot of worry about debt.” Iona commented: “You saw this week, with the riots outside Parliament, just how many young people are exercised about the whole student loan issue, and it also coincided with that report from the Higher Education Council saying three-quarters of loans may never be paid back by students in the end, so people are very well aware this a flawed system and in the process they have become politically engaged with that whole topic, so it’s not surprising that the kids you are meeting are thinking about it because it’s bound to get through to them.”

Geraldine said a lot of the fear comes from “not understanding what they are getting into, getting mixed messages about debt and the future, and what it holds for them if they take out these loans.”

MyBnk aims to give them accurate information. It tests pupils’ knowledge at the beginning and the end of courses and monitors what it is doing thoroughly. @MyBnk

In the young rights/careers segment of the show, Iona looked at the importance of your voice in presenting yourself.

Employment minister Esther McVeigh had told young people it was important to ‘keep it real’ and not change your accent, Iona said. “I’ll be explaining how young people don’t have to change their accents to get on but I’ll be bringing some simple ways to harness the power of your voice.”

David and Victoria Beckham had both tried to make their voices posher over the last 10 years, Iona reported, though many celebrities had not. “I recommend that everyone listening stays true to their voice.”

Interviewed by Iona, media mentor and vocal tutor David Spencer said the key was to know how you sounded. “How we perceive ourselves is very different to how other people perceive us.”

People preparing for an interview probably failed to think about how they speak. In a presentation, you need warmth, confidence, connecting with the listener – just as in radio, David said – and with so much time spent on the smartphone there was a risk of “face to face skills” being neglected.


In a final discussion, Geraldine stressed the importance of communication in the classroom. “The worst thing you can do when you are working with young people is to pretend to be something you are not.”

Don’t miss next week’s show, Friday at 9.15!

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What these PAINFUL real-life interview stories can teach us…part 2


We can all learn to improve our interview technique – here are some more tips from david on how to avoid common mistakes…

Interview catastrophe #4 – Don’t lie, you’ll probably be found out.

It can be very tempting to tell an interviewer what you imagine they want to hear, even if it’s not quite true. One friend – too embarrassed to give his real name (let’s call him Joe) – remembers a job interview he had with a political party. “They asked why I hadn’t become a party member yet, and I said I was committed to the cause but just hadn’t got around to it.”

Things turned sour when the interviewers revealed they had heard from a staff member (and acquaintance of Joe’s) that he was, in fact, a member of another party. “I remember the word ‘mercenary’ was used about me during the interview,” says Joe.

This might be an extreme example, but experienced interviewers are able to tell the difference between bluster and the bona fide article. It’s one of the reasons they’re there. If you make a claim on your application, make sure you’ve thought about how it can be backed up in a face-to-face interview.    

Interview catastrophe #5 – Get creative with transferable skills.

This one’s a bit of a cop out; it isn’t really a catastrophe at all, but it does show how a bad experience can be turned to your advantage.

These days Dawinder works as a theatre producer, but it took her some time to land the dream job. “I had every single rubbish temp job going while getting into the arts,” she says.

The key to success lay in finding the connections between her temp work and the skills required in her ideal career. “It’s terrible working your way up, but with the right attitude in every job you always learn something valuable to add to your backpack of work & life skills.”

You don’t have to look far before you start to find relevant job skills in everyday life. Play music in a band? You probably communicate well as part of a team. Work in a call centre? It takes considerable persuasive powers to keep someone on the line once they realise it’s a cold call. Wrote essays for uni? That takes research and communication skills. Everyone has transferable skills, the real challenge is identifying them.

And the rest…

Get a good sleep, eat a healthy breakfast, breathe deeply and don’t overindulge in coffee before your interview. Basically, remember all the things your Mum ever told you about going for interviews!

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Why auto-enrolment isn’t enough to defuse the pensions timebomb

Iona Bain


It is often talked about as a ticking time bomb: too few workers saving too little for their retirement. And we are all supposed to be living longer than ever before – so who is going to pay for our later lives?

The government has already warned me, in the starkest possible terms, that I cannot necessarily rely on the state for help. A few years ago, I received a letter from the department of work and pensions, telling me I will only have about £100 a week to play with when I hit retirement, unless I start making my own provisions now.

Bear in mind that I got this letter just after celebrating my 21st birthday. I did not have a job at that point. I would only hit my stride and find my first full-time role a few years later, having been forced to change career tack and move cities.

I also got this missive at a time when student debt loomed large in my mind. I was all too aware that, if I were to get a full-time job, the student loan company would be a constant companion throughout my twenties. And I consider myself one of the lucky ones. I saved more than most on housing costs by moving back home before using family funds to help buy a place with my brother. Many of my working friends might as well get their employers to set up a direct debit for their landlords and redirect their salary to them. Most of them can barely find any leftover money for the things they want in life.

With all that comes a degree of financial instability that leaves little room for long-term financial thinking. That is a cold hard fact that cannot be ignored.

Young & Broke but Talented by noeltheartist

Yet the government is making us all sign up automatically to a pension whenever we enter a full-time company role, and we must then choose to opt out if we begrudge the monthly contributions. The architects of auto-enrolment argue that this will harness the financial apathy of young people, encouraging them to save today in order to fund tomorrow. They cite the relatively low opt-out rates seen so far as evidence that this policy is working. But my friends are suspicious of our workplace pensions system – and rightly so. For starters, many are astonished at the huge difference between their grandparents’ pension arrangements and what is on the table today. My granddad worked for GEC for 50 years and retired at 65 on a pension amounting to two-thirds of his final salary and an index-linked widow’s pension. Now most of those final salary schemes have become sepia-toned relics, fading from corporate life week by week.

Our DC pensions from different companies can, in theory, get thrown into one pot, and if Steve Webb has his way, pot will automatically follow member. But my peers ask me troubling questions about the system. What kind of annual income will we get from that pension pot? How much will annual management charges for pension schemes eat into our capital, particularly for schemes in companies we may have left a long time ago?


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Why do bad interviews happen to good candidates? Part 1

By David Graves

Few people can honestly say they’ve never replayed a faux pas in their head and groaned: “What was I thinking?” Everyone has moments they wish they could travel back in time to and change. But if the gaffe is made in a high-stakes situation like a job interview, the desire to turn the clock back can be overwhelming.

Unfortunately, until scientists come up with a working Tardis this isn’t an option. In the meantime, the next best thing we can do is learn from others’ mistakes before making them ourselves.

So with this in mind, here are three car-crash interviews (including one of my own) and some advice on how to avoid it happening to you. Some are funny, some not so – but there’s a lesson to be learnt from all of them!

Interview catastrophe #1 – Keep calm and take your time.

About a year ago I was invited to an assessment day for a job with a broadcaster. Along with all the usual psychometric tests, one of the exercises was a game. Each person had 10 seconds to look at a Lego model hidden behind a screen, before describing what they saw to the others. The group had to build a model, based on this description, with the pile of bricks in front of them.

Eager to demonstrate my leadership qualities, I volunteered to go first. I took one look at the model and blurted out: “It looks like a sphincter!” (If you don’t know the word, I’d suggest caution when Googling it.) The room was silent. I staggered on: “You know, like the big Egyptian cat statues…”

The word I was looking for – as the assessor helpfully pointed out – was ‘sphinx’. The model didn’t even look much like a sphinx. In the end it turned out to be a duck.

Take the time to think before answering questions. Under pressure even very short pauses can seem to stretch out for an eternity, but don’t speak before you have something sensible to say. A well-considered response is always going to impress an interviewer more than a quick one. I made the mistake of saying the first thing that popped into my head, and it may well have cost me the job.

Interview catastrophe #2 – Do the right homework.

When Susan interviewed for a job with the Edinburgh Military Tattoo– a hugely popular annual showcase for military music – she thought she’d done her homework thoroughly.

“I’d spent hours researching the show,” she says. “When I walked into that interview room, I knew the TV viewership stats for crying out loud!” 

But despite having vast quantities of background information at her fingertips, there was one crucial thing she hadn’t prepared for. “The interview roughly went like this: ‘Have you ever been to the tattoo?’ No. ‘But you’ve watched it on television?’ No, never. ‘Well, what can you tell me about it?’ Um, nothing really.”

When researching an organisation make sure to check you’ve not overlooked anything obvious. Many job descriptions demand a ‘passion’ for the organisation’s work, but realistically you’re unlikely to be ecstatic about every place you interview for. That’s OK, but a good grasp of their core business is crucial. For one thing, if you don’t know it beforehand, it’s almost impossible to blag on the spot.

Interview catastrophe #3 – Be confident. You made it this far…

“I got shortlisted for two broadsheet newspaper graduate schemes. On both occasions I was faced with two old-school Fleet Street bores,” says Rachel.

During one of the interviews, the line of questioning turned to what Rachel’s parents do for a living. It came across, she says, as an attempt to figure out “if I blended in with their old-school toff image.”

Interviewers can come across as intimidating – even if they don’t mean to – and especially if the organisation is renowned for having a stuffy culture. But remember that if you’ve made it to interview, you’ve impressed them so far. Keep this in mind and act confident, even if it is just that – an act. 

Research shows that people form an impression of character in less than a second, based on just one word. Confidence without arrogance, a clear voice, firm handshake, and gently mirroring the interviewer’s body-language (but not too much) all serve to impress on interviewers that you and they are on the same wavelength.    

And if the organisation really is the type of place that would reject someone because of the school they went to or their accent, perhaps the bigger question is would you really want to work for them anyway? 


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How to woo that special someone without breaking the bank–latest from Helen Lawless

One of our young money voices, HELEN LAWLESS, is back with some ingenious tips about low-cost dating

Dating someone is great, obviously, but it does entail a whole load of expenses you don’t have to concern yourself with when you’re unattached. So how do you dump the reckless spending but not the object of your affections?

Going out:

· Go on a low-cost date like visiting a free museum, people-watching in a coffee shop, wandering along the beach or sharing a picnic in the park. All of these date ideas also have the added bonus of being conversational, as opposed to going to the cinema or a night club, both of which are over-priced and won’t allow you to really talk to each other.

· Before a date, check websites like GroupOn or for vouchers to make activities cheaper. Also, if you like your favourite restaurants on Facebook and/or follow them on Twitter, you can sometimes get discount vouchers that way. Also look out for restaurants and bars local to you which give you a discount if you Tweet that you’re there.

· For special occasions, you don’t have to go to the Ritz – it just has to feel like it. Try dressing up for a modestly priced dinner out and it will automatically feel more romantic, or if you live together, have one of you pick the other up from your mutual front door, like the good ol’ days.

Staying in:

· Learn to cook! Not only is it a wonderful gesture to cook for your loved one, you’ll save significantly compared to eating out, getting a take away or even buying ready meals, so get your chef’s hat on! If you’re a complete novice check out sites like BBC Food which have categories for quick ‘n’ easy recipes.

· Get a joint Netflix subscription. Not only will having a common TV addiction bring you closer together, it will make cheap nights in more attractive and save you money compared to renting a movie.

· Ditch the booze as often as possible: even though drinking in is relatively cheaper than drinking out, it’s still a sizeable expense, so ask each other if you really feel like that six pack or bottle of wine tonight before just buying it out of habit.

Keeping in touch:

· Download a chat app as an alternative to texting, which will mean you can talk for free whenever you both have WiFi, like Viber, WhatsApp or GroupMe.

· Similarly try Skype to see your s.o.’s face or Relay Gif Messenger to send them cute puppy gifs throughout the day!

· If you’re in a long-term relationship consider joining the same mobile phone network if you’re not on it already, as it’s usually cheaper to call someone on the same network as you.

Date night doesn't have to be an expensive night on the town. Try having just a romantic evening at home.

Showing you care:

· Expensive presents do not equate to caring, so try making your cards and gifts yourself, to add a personal touch and save some cash. Obviously this suggestion comes easier to those who are artistically inclined, but even if you can’t draw, you can make a collage of photos of you both, bake something yummy, or invest in some arts and crafts supplies. Don’t worry, even if it’s not great you still get points for trying!

· Even if the arts and crafts scene isn’t for you, when joint occasions are coming up like Christmas or an anniversary, set a mutual spending limit on presents and cards.

· Besides cards and gifts there are also other ways to make his or her day: mow their lawn, help them with a DIY project, write them a love letter or offer them a back rub.

Love doesn’t have a price tag, so make sure you’re the one going above and beyond for that special someone, not your bank account.


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Filed under Bargain hunting, Dating, Leisure, Shopping

Cyber-bullying, rapping about money and the professions that desperately need YOU!


The Young Money Show on Share Radio took off in style today as Iona aired a clip from a young people’s radio station in Manchester and a cool money management rap!

She also welcomed guests to talk about a money competition that reaches out to youngsters from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, and about an attractive but little-understood profession that is trying to attract young graduates looking for a career.

Iona first commented on a report out today about cyber-bullying. There is plenty of advice online, she noted.

“Make the most of privacy settings, think before you post, don’t reveal identifying details about yourself, discuss with your friends, stand up to bullies online, and talk about it at your school.”

Is it too late to brush off on your financial knowhow? No, said Iona, who next drew attention to a valuable course being run by the Open University which offers people the chance to become more savvy about their money.


Iona in the studio with Sahar and Dr Fiona Grant

‘Managing my Money’ gives practical guidance on how to compile a budget, and discusses debt, investment, home ownership, pension products, and insurance. The course lasts eight weeks, commitment is three hours a day, but you can choose when to study – and you get a certificate.

“That can be very helpful if you are looking to boost your skills and employability,” Iona said. “Employers actually welcome evidence that you are savvy when it comes to your personal finances.”

The free online course starts on January 5, and you can find out more at:

Next Iona told listeners about the Lloyds Bank ‘Money for Life’ competition, which she helps to judge. It’s a scheme open to young people from all over the UK. One of the entries was from some young guys in Manchester who received a grant for £500 to produce and promote a money show. In a music-style format, the ‘DJ’ showcased not top music tracks but top money-saving tips. The show went out last year on Reform Radio, a community station in Manchester, the team reached the Money for Life final, and they now have plans to pilot the show in local schools.

As we heard in the clip from the show, the chart-topping tip was “avoid the three Ts – tobacco, taxis and takeaways”!

Next came the show’s big treat –a money rap. You can find it at:

Money Matters on

Iona then welcomed to Share Radio Irfan Zaman from Money for Life UK. He revealed that entries for the competition come from youngsters from all backgrounds and from all over the UK, and described how it prompts young people to engage with money in different ways.

The second part of the show focuses on young rights, particularly workplace and career issues.

Irfan Zaman highlighted the high proportion of 16-24-year-old NEETs (not in education employment or training) and noted the importance to this group of financial awareness.

Iona then welcomed to the studio young surveyor Sahar Rezazadeh, who is among the finalists in the Young Surveyor of the Year competition being run by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors.

Alongside her was Dr Fiona Grant from the RICS, who talked about the profession’s need to communicate with and attract graduates who did not realise the attractions of surveying as a profession.

Sahar told Iona her degree was in political science but she had realised it could serve her in different ways.

Asked by co-presenter Georgie Frost what was ‘fun’ about being a surveyor, Sahar said the work was always varied and was all about engaging with the built environment around us.


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Filed under Consumer Affairs, Employment, Graduate finance, Mobiles, Personal Finance, Personal Finance Education, Technology

What today’s news about payday lenders means for YOU–and ways to avoid their clutches

By Iona Bain

The Financial Conduct Authority has confirmed a series of restrictions on payday lenders, designed to lift vulnerable consumers out of their reach. But can you avoid these high cost loans if you wish to borrow in the short-term – and how should young people view this controversial practice?

What this clampdown illustrates is that charges were not always easy to understand, contrary to what the industry has claimed, and the consequences of missing repayments have been poorly explained to consumers. That was either by accident or by design – either view would stem from how much you believe payday lenders have sought to obfuscate their charges in order to be profitable – much like the banks do with overdrafts!

Even if lenders had made every possible effort to set out charges openly and clearly, the kind of consumers they are ostensibly targeting – young workers who are in position to borrow – do not always have the wherewithal to pay back debts in a timely, efficient way. This is partly because they they are living on a financial knife-edge in the first place and the money might not always be there to keep the lenders off their back. Sadly, young people do not always grasp the seriousness of entering debt in this way, as it hasn’t been drummed into their heads by teachers and parents, and that’s one reason that they fail to understand the consequences of missing repayments.

After all, it would be easy to trivialise all these digital transactions – it is not the same as handling real, tangible money. There is an unfounded idea among many young people that the wolves can be kept from the door and more money can be made available if need be – after all, that was the same mentality that drove them towards payday loans in the first place. So it’s easy to see how an unpaid loan can quickly turn from a nagging burden into a full-blown crisis. Regulators are now starting to see that the problems with payday lenders are intractable, reliant as these companies are on a market that is financially precarious enough to require financial help in 15 minutes and therefore highly unlikely to ever understand how the products work so they can be used responsibly.

In any event, it has become that the more unsavoury payday lenders in the market, of which there seems to be hundreds, actively target people who may be sloppy with their finances and ripe for further charges. I actually believe these companies have mistakenly believed that young people and vulnerable sections of society are the basis for a sustainable business model and regulators snapping at their heels to cap charges must now make it difficult for many payday lenders without the marketing budget of Wonga to turn a decent profit.

Not that they should expect any sympathy from me. It is clear that payday lenders have capitalised on a foggy financial outlook among young people, who are led to believe they can achieve the lifestyle they want right here, right now but cannot adequately weigh up the value of different borrowing options. The problem is exacerbated by high street banks which are incapable of offering a similar short-term borrowing model on a profitable basis. I met representatives from a major bank earlier this year who told me it was “physically impossible” to offer short-term borrowing options on a par with Wonga – although that doesn’t explain why certain credit unions, like Glasgow Credit Union, are in a position to offer quick loans to its members who are already saving responsibly. But any chance of banks adopting a similar model anytime soon? I wouldn’t hold my breath. Banks seem incapable of innovating at a rate necessary to keep up with this fast-mutating consumer economy and are at risk of seeming truly out of touch compared to quick-fix credit providers online.

But please, please don’t be fooled. No good can come from short-term borrowing, even if you repay on time and without incident. Young people don’t have to paper over the cracks in their financial situation by taking out money within 15 minutes, and the speediness of these loans compared to other options does not detract from their intrinsic poor value.


So let’s take it back to basics:

Budget, budget, budget

It’s simple really – just have a look at your most recent bank statements, and see where your greatest expenditure was. If the cost of that night-out shocks you, or if you spent more than you bargained at a particular online store, it’s time to get some strategies in place to avoid unplanned or excessive spending that could tip you over the edge and force you into short-term borrowing.

Master your urges

Remember the marshmallow experiment conducted by Stanford University professors back in the 60s/70s? Children who waited to receive two marshmallows, rather than eat the one right in front of them, were found to be more healthy, as well as functional in their careers and personal lives, when they grew up. Ways to defer gratification, and stop you taking out a loan to fund expensive habits, range from ‘proxy activities’ (all the better if they’re free) that can be employed a moment’s notice, graceful ‘white lies’ to help extract you from social scenarios where excessive spending is on the agenda (such as a big night out) and turning the people around you into full-time support staff. That means if you feel the urge to go online and shop, or head out for the night with your debit card fully loaded and ready to be wiped clean, ask a helpful friend/housemate to keep you in check. By the way, heading out for the night with cash only – NOT your debit card – is probably your only bet if you want to avoid spending far more than necessary.

Consider other borrowing options, particularly if they are available through a local credit union

That is because a credit union will ask you to save a certain amount before you can take out any money, thus giving you a financial cushion. Even borrowing via an overdraft or credit card can be a sensible plan compared to a high cost payday loan – but only IF you understand any charges involved. I say that if you’re in any doubt, look at your long-term spending habits and ask if there is anything that can be changed so you don’t have to resort to unnecessary borrowing.

Consider a current account with an interest free overdraft…

…like the one currently offered by M&S Bank – unlike other banks, it doesn’t charge a monthly fee and its overdraft is worth £100, interest-free, if you find yourself dipping into the red. However, the current account offered by First Direct is an extremely tempting option as it offers a very generous £250 interest free on its overdraft and while you have to pay a £10 monthly fee, you could find the borrowing facility is well worth that charge. I recommend this over the Halifax Current Account offer – £300 interest-free overdraft – only because this option requires you to pay in £750 a month, which could be a tall order. Switching current accounts is far easier than it used to be, so make sure you’ve got the best deal to suit your needs.

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Filed under Budgeting, Credit, Debt, Payday loans

Young Money Show launches on Share Radio!

Iona Bain & Georgie Frost co-hosted the first weekly programme between 9 and 10 a.m. today as part of the station’s Consumer show

Iona kicked off with her own moneysaving tip wash your clothes on 30 c not 90c ‘because we don’t all work down a coal mine’

A report out today says that only 16 % of under 34s will be homeowners in 5 years time, almost half the 28% now

‘Shocking’ says Iona, young people crave property ownership because they want security, and in many cases they are paying a high price for the freedom of renting

Open up economic opportunities outside London & south-east for young people to ease the pressure on housing demand, Iona says

Poppy profiteers banned by eBay – on the re-sellers of £25 ceramic poppies from the Tower installation, Iona says: ‘Not everything has to be about money and the opportunity to make a quick buck….Hats off to eBay who will cancel any sale – it’s the right thing to do in this instance.’

*Iona is co-organising a Remembrance Event at St Cuthberts Church, Earls Court, on Sunday evening. Music by Vaughan Williams, Butterworth, Ravel, poems by Owen, Brooke. Gospel choir and orchestra. Art exhibition. Proceeds to Royal British Legion. 7pm, all welcome.

Back on the Young Money Show, Iona:

*endorsed local high street shopping

* called for zero tolerance on drink-driving among young people – ‘if in doubt leave it out’

*warned that financial education may get pushed off the school curriculum unless teachers champion the subject

*supported the ‘big picture’ approach to teaching young people about money – awareness of their own attitudes and behaviours

*said employers face too much red tape in taking on apprentices – that should be sorted out

*reassured that saving even a small amount each month is better than nothing and could make a big difference to your peace of mind

*warned that social media pressures mean young people can sleepwalk into overspending

*reminded young people that commercial tuition fees have made university a commercial transaction, and they should get the service they pay for

Iona also reminded under-26s they should have a 16-25 Railcard if they travel by train, and that it can be put onto London Oystercards – thanks to immediate tweet from @MartinOyster saying older students can get railcards if in full-time education

Young Money Show rolls again Friday November 14 at 0900 on Share Radio – so stay tuned!

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Why energy prices have been rising – and what YOU can do about them


Energy prices have been a major talking point in the media recently – little wonder, when both households and politicians appear to be obsessed with this rather heated debate. Pardon the pun!

Thinking. Amazing use of tactile and white space

In recent years, consumers have increasingly felt the pinch of rising energy bills, putting their already tight budgets under excruciating pressure. Over the past 3 years, on average, UK household energy bills have risen by 21%, the equivalent of £221 per year. Many households have been forced to take drastic measures, trying everything to avoid switching on lights and using their heating.

So why have energy prices risen so sharply in recent years? There are a number of factors. Firstly, the big six energy firms have increased their prices by almost a third. Collectively the big six dominate the market, with a customer base of around 90% of all households.

Additionally, the infrastructure of the UK energy system has undergone some big changes in recent times. One of the biggest factors behind energy price hikes is the investment made by the industry in the development and improvement of our energy supply network. Transporting gas and electricity around the country is a serious operation – setting up, maintaining and upgrading this energy network costs huge amounts of money. And yes, you’ve guessed it – the cost is ultimately passed on to the consumers. It’s estimated that by 2020 over £118bn needs to be invested in order to keep up our energy supply.

Tax and levies on energy have also shot up in recent years, further affecting our bills. In fact, the European Commission recently said this was the biggest reason for the most recent spike in electricity bills.

So what have consumers been doing to tackle the rise in prices? Well, there are a couple of simple strategies that have recently proved very effective. When it comes to slashing energy bills, a typically overlooked piece of equipment is the energy efficient light bulb. As winter is drawing in and nights are lasting longer, we are all spending many more hours of the day with the lights on. As these energy efficient light bulbs draw less energy from the grid, you can light up your home relatively cheaply.

But one of the biggest issues surrounding energy prices and suppliers is a lack of knowledge on the part of consumers – particularly young people. Energy providers overwhelm us with a huge variety of tariffs, making the market very complex. This is creating a great deal of uncertainty among customers when it comes to shopping around. So many of us decide against it. Picking up the phone and speaking to different energy suppliers could strike fear into many hearts – especially if you’re not completely sure about what your options are. Then there is the danger is that you may hang up the phone having just signed up for a new tariff you have no idea about! However, if you have been with the same energy supplier for a number of years, switching could save you lots of money.

Recently Ofgem has launched a website – Go Energy Shopping – for consumers who are looking around for a new and cheaper tariff. Ofgem is the independent regulator tasked with keeping the energy market in check.

A three-step handy guide gives consumers the lowdown on how to slash their energy bills – understanding your energy consumption (and bills), compare the energy suppliers and switch the energy tariff.

Ofgem is also using a “Confidence Code” for all trusted, unbiased price comparison sites for you.

The website also includes a ‘glossary of terms’ to help explain any technical terms on your energy bill, links to useful website and a downloadable guide- everything you need to become energy savvy.

Check out and see how much you could save your energy bills.

Kindly supported by Ofgem – we only have partnerships with reputable organisations and firms who seek to help consumers. Please get in touch if you are interested in supporting our non-profit blog and young writers: ionabain[at]

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Filed under Consumer Affairs, Energy, Personal Finance, Shopping

Weird and wonderful funding still available for cash-strapped students (from the Sunday Times)

Iona Bain

Sunday Times

Jessica Williams received a grant of £500 from the Vegetarian Charity to help fund her MA at Imperial College London

AS FRESHERS get into the swing of university life, their families may still be fretting about how to pay for it with university tuition fees of up to £9,000 a year.

However, vegetarians, Welsh speakers, Santander shareholders, and people whose surname is Buchanan or whose parents are pharmacists can all apply for money to help pay for their studies.

It is not too late to inquire about this last-minute funding, with many weird and wonderful scholarships on offer. Best of all, you do not necessarily have to be hard-up to qualify for them all.

Check out the Scholarship Hub ( for more information or visit the websites that are listed below. But hurry — you may only have a few days left to apply.


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