Saturday, 31 December 2011

Six self-enhancement purchases for 2012 (totalling under a tenner too):

How can a second-hand book, a pedometer, a cheap brolly, a pair of tights, six second-class stamps and a packet of seeds add up to self-enhancement? Here's how:

·      Get stuck in to a stonking good used novel   COST 1p
A can’t-put-it-down novel is the perfect way to cherish yourself. On Amazon are tons of good used books available from dealers for just 0.01p. No kidding. Sure they make money on the postage but if you add your 1p book to someone else’s Amazon order you won’t pay extra. Here are some of my all-time favourites all available for 1p:
Any Human Heart by William Boyd
Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
Perfume by Patrisk Suskind
Room by Emma Donoghue

·      Get a pedometer   COST 78p
Walking is the best way to trim your body and lift your mood. Use a pedometer to see how many steps you can clock up in a day, aiming for 10,000. If you’re monitoring every step it’s amazing how many ways you find to walk a bit further. You’ll be healthier and happier and won’t have been near a gym or put on lycra. This one from Amazon really is only 78p. OK it probably is crap for that price so go for a better one if you can.
Walk your way to health for under £1

·      Leave magazines on the shelf    COST £0
Women feel worse after looking at a magazine (all that social comparison is depressing). And why waste money on mags full of  glossy adverts peddling the 'happiness through having' myth?  There are good free online magazines instead. Or if you must spend out then at least help someone by doing it and buy the Big Issue. Or buy a mag that doesn't bang on about shoes and handbags and whose maxim is 'Curiosity is sacred' - Oh Comely magazine.

·      Spend on a stranger    COST  £1
Research shows we feel happier after spending money on someone else than after spending it on ourselves. When caught in a Tokyo downpour once a Japanese lady came up and gave me an umbrella. I was so touched by her kindness. Why not buy a £1 brolly from a pound store and give it to someone caught in the rain. They'll love you for it. Or jump on the Pay It Forward bandwagon, pay for the next person's coffee in a queue or the next car's toll. I guarantee you'll feel happier.

 Colour up  COST £3.99
Bright colours and a personal treat to cheer the soul. Quell the urge to clothes shop by splashing out on some really brightly coloured tights. They're cheap and cheerful and will add that touch of wackiness to any outfit that's feeling a tad tired. These cerise pink ones are from H&M

·      Six second class stamps     COST £2.16
Another way of getting pleasure through giving. Don't you love getting a letter or card with a stamp on? it's a rare pleasure nowadays. Send 6 letters or cards to loved ones, long-lost friends or just people you know. Say hello, suggest a meet-up, thank them for being in your life or tell them why they matter to you. At 36p each you'll be spreading shed-loads of happiness that'll soon come bouncing back your way.  
Long time no write.
Plant seeds    COST £1.55
        Connecting with nature is so good for the soul.
        You'll feel such a smug-filled sense of satisfaction when you grow something from scratch. I recommend a packet of rocket seeds, dead easy to grow and you'll be nibbling the leaves all summer and sharing them with friends. Even better are nasturtiums, you can chuck the seeds on poor soil and they'll still provide a riot of fiery flowers right through the summer. Even better, you get poor-man's capers from the seeds and the flowers are edible too! 

       Green fingers, flowers and food - the perfect ingredients for super self-enhancement. 

     TOTAL INVESTMENT?     £9.49

Try these tips in 2012 and let us know how you got on!


Saturday, 24 December 2011

Happy Christmas

...and a prosperous and Sheconomical New Year to you all.

Thank you all so much for your support. 
This year the number of hits on this blog almost tipped 10,000. 
We've got sled-loads of good stuff coming your way next year, and some exciting new developments. 
So keep checking in and we'll see  you a-plenty in twenty twelve!

Monday, 19 December 2011

It's panic-now-pay-later week. Would you credit it?

This week is panic week. 
The week when we panic-buy those extra presents (just in case she buys me one), that extra food (can't have too many mince pies) and drink (come on, it is Christmas after all). That extra ton of tinsel and kilometre of lights.
And the panic-buyer's best friend is their credit card. Knowing you can panic-now pay-later makes it all too easy to slip those extra goodies into the basket.
But how much will credit card debt cost you if you only make the minimum repayment on your card?
Test how much you know with this simple question, taken from Martin Lewis's brilliant money saving site.


Your New Year's resolution is to stop borrowing, but you've still £3,000 on a credit card at 17.9% interest. How long will it take to clear if you're making the minimum monthly repayments (the higher of 2% or £5)?

A. In two Christmases time
B. In eight Christmases time
C. In 14 Christmases time
D. In 41 Christmases time

Think about it before scrolling down for the answer.

Mmm...shouldn't have stuck all those presents on my visa card.
The Correct Answer is: D. In 41 Christmases time
Staggeringly if you only make the minimum repayments it’ll take over 41 years to repay the card at an interest cost of £6,300. Minimum repayments are designed to keep you in debt. Think about it 17.9% interest a year is about one and a half percent a month – the minimum payment is 2%, so you’re not doing much more than servicing the interest.
Further Info: See the money saving expert's full Minimum Repayment Calculator which includes a guide to beating the trap.

If this doesn't apply to you but you know someone who needs help keeping their spending under control, a copy of Sheconomics could be the prefect present.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

A formula for how much you should spend on that gift.

The average shopper will spend £673.56 on gifts this Christmas.
But how much of that will be spent on the wrong people?

I was thrilled to be asked by Warrington-based Golden Square Shopping Centre to come up with a 'gift formula' to help people decide how much to spend on everyone on their gift list this Christmas. 
You can cap how much you spend.
Whether they’re having a cut-back Christmas or a festive blow-out.

After all this is the time of year when most people feel under pressure to spend more than they should. Many shoppers will be tempted to impulse buy, spend too much and risk going into debt – a real issue in the current economic climate.

Ian Cox, Marketing Manager at Golden Square said: “We realise that it may sound strange that a shopping centre is helping shoppers to cut back on their Christmas budget, but this season is the time of year that sees most people slip into debt."

The formula takes into account two key factors: your current financial situation as well as the closeness to the person you are spending for.

So what/s the magic formula?
Work out how much you should spend on everyone this Christmas:

Average spend - Financial situation X Closeness = CHRISTMAS SPEND
To work this out you:
1.    Take the average amount you spend on most gifts.
Do this by taking the total amount you spend and divide it by the number of people you buy for (exclude your partner or anyone you spend a lot more on).
            2.    Reduce the amount to take account of your financial situation.
            Unless we’ve won the lottery, we should all take off 5% for austerity/inflation or up to 20% if you’ve hit harder times.
             3.    Adjust that amount for closeness*.
Add half as much again for someone you are very close to. But consider spending just a quarter of that amount for anyone you are buying for out of obligation.
*The Closeness Scale
See where the person you are buying for fits on the scale below. Then adjust the amount that you spend.
I’m just buying this person a present out of habit/obligation.
I’m buying this person a present partly out of obligation
I’m buying them a present because we are close
I’m buying them a present because we are very close
Divide by 4
Divide by 2
Multiply by 1.2
Multiply by 1.5

So, for example, a person spending £300 on 10 people last year, reduced 5% for inflation and buying it for a person partly out of obligation, should spend just £14.25 on their gift.

In short:
  • Use the ‘gift giver’ formula to help bring real meaning to gift giving. 
  • Remember to spend according to how close you are to the person, and keep within your financial means. 
  • If that means not giving to those who have become an ‘obligation’, that makes sound economic sense.

You can read more about my psychological research into gift-giving (and gift failure) here.
And remember Sheconomics is stuffed full of tips to help you manage your budget.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

How much cleavage should you flash at work?

Sarah Brummitt, image consultant.
Thanks to Sarah Brummitt (right) for airing the important issue of cleavage in a corporate environment.
I must admit, I've long been bewildered by the trend for boob-flashing at work. 
And now it seems that more mammaries equals less salaries.
Sarah, an image consultant and training and development consultant, keeps us abreast of this issue:

Last year, a survey commissioned in the UK suggested that women who display too much cleavage at work could end up sabotaging their careers. More than 3,000 managers found that almost half of bosses would overlook a woman for promotions if she regularly exposed her cleavage.
Is this fair? Or is it sexist nonsense? Is cleavage cool or crass at work?
I'm not a prude - and as a small chested woman I can appreciate a fabulous bosom as much as the most hot-blooded male...but.......a glorious cleavage in the office is just not on. It's a distraction to both men AND women - but for different reasons.
1. Men see it as a clear 'come on' sign OR, they are so embarrassed they don't know where to look.
2. Women can either be continually distracted (I know I am because one of my colleagues insists on regularly exposing her cleavage and I can't help but keep looking.......). The altenative female response is to elicit some good, old-fashioned, bitchy jealousy and loathing.
As an Image Coach, I'm all about personal brand - helping professionals create a perception by colleagues which conveys the real essence of them; their reputation; their unique expertise. 
Who on earth wants to be known as the girl that always has her baps on show? 
It's not right and it's not fair, but the reality of still working in a predominantly male-orientated work environment means that to succeed in business we need to be viewed as credible, professional and authoritative.
A woman can't do that if her boobs are out.
So, ladies please - a glorious bosom is for a date, a cocktail party, a social event. It's not for the office. So button up, put them away and create a focal point somewhere else. May I suggest the face instead?

Thanks Sarah - check her out on Thank goodness the good old polo neck is coming back into fashion.
And remember, psychological research confirms that the image you portray may be at odds with the one you intended. 
You may think that a flash of cleavage is cool, alluring even. 
They may think you look like a lap-dancer. 
Think about it next time you dress for the office and keep in mind that less is probably more.

Monday, 21 November 2011


Money Chat campaign reveals over nine million women in the UK are uncomfortable discussing money;
and 16 million women are concerned about making ends-meet, compared to just 12 million men

Despite being known as the chattier sex, it seems that when it comes to talking money, women are more reluctant to open up than their male counterparts. New research released today from the Money Advice Service, has found that nearly two-fifths (39%) of women, which equates to 9.5 million people, are uncomfortable discussing money, compared to just a third of men (33% or 7.7m).

Worryingly, the figures, gathered as part of the Service’s Money Chat campaign, which aims to get the UK to open up more about money, also show that women are more concerned about their money, with nearly a third (31%) saying they feel stressed about it, compared to just over a fifth (22%) of men. And that nearly two-thirds of women (65% or 15.8m) are concerned about making ends-meet, compared to just over half of men (53% or 12.4m).

·       For some women, their reluctance to talk about money in daily life is related to confidence - nearly a third (30%) say they don’t feel confident talking about money, compared to just under a quarter (24%) of men.
·       A third (33%) of women say they find it stressful talking about money, compared to just under a quarter (24%) of men.

It’s not just in conversation that this lack of confidence may be putting women at a disadvantage. Men are also more willing to seek help when needed, with nearly half (45%) (10.5m) saying that they would tell their partner or family straight away if they were struggling with debt, compared to just under two-fifths (38%) (9.2m) of women. Outside of the home, nearly three-fifths (57%) of men, compared to just over half (52%) of women say that they are comfortable telling a professional or expert money adviser how much they earn for a living.
The survey also indicates:

·       Women are still quite traditional when thinking about earnings, with a third (33%) saying that they would prefer that their partner earn more than they do.
·       For nearly a third (30%) of women, planning to move in with someone is the time to start wondering how much a prospective partner earns, while under a fifth (19%) of men think about it then.
·       In fact, nearly a third (32%) of men say that they would never think about how much a prospective partner earns, compared to just under a fifth (18%) of women.

I suppose traditionally, money matters have been viewed as male territory and this may be one of the reasons why men still feel more confident discussing it and seeking help when needed. However, money is a topic we should all feel comfortable broaching, whether you’re a traditional type or not. This not only applies in times of difficulty, but also in our daily lives. Feeling comfortable discussing money makes it easier to assess our own financial situation, and see whether there are ways we could be making it work better for us."

To illustrate the results and highlight the differences between men and women across the UK, the Money Advice Service has created an interactive Money Chat Map at:   

The Money Advice Service is an independent organisation, here to help everyone make the most of their money with free, practical advice. This autumn, it launched its Money Chat campaign to encourage everyone to open up more about money and break down the barriers that stop us seeking help. To get the conversation started, you can use its free online health check, which identifies a list of short and long-term money priorities in a personalised action plan. Try the health check now online at,uk.
Customers can also speak to a Money Adviser on the phone via 0300 500 5000, or arrange a face-to-face meeting in their local area (see below for further details).

Don't forget Sheconomics devotes a whole chapter to Sharing Financial Intimacies, helping you to get that money conversation started. You can also download our tip sheet about How To Talk To Your Partner About Money.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

How banks discriminate against female customers

Just imagine.
You’ve got an exciting and bomb-proof proposal for a start-up and approach your bank for investment. Later you find out that you were:
-       asked more questions
-       offered less money
-       ask to provide higher collateral
than a male applicant approaching the same lender. Because you are female.
I'm pregnant, not brain-dead.

That’s just one of the findings in a new report published today by Noreena Hertz who is based at Duisenberg School of Finance, RSM, Erasmus University and University of Cambridge. She also reveals how women are refused mortgages, and their business acument is called into question, if they are pregnant.
Professor Hertz’s key findings include:
-        Evidence in the UK of banks discriminating against pregnant women and women on maternity leave seeking mortgages. This seems to be an ongoing industry-wide practice, with a number of leading UK high street banks named.

-        Evidence in Europe of banks discriminating against women entrepreneurs. Research suggests women are being asked for more collateral than men for loans, being charged higher interest rates and being refused loans more frequently than men.

-        Evidence of gender stereotyping by bank loan officers internationally. Examples of this include women entrepreneurs being questioned significantly more often than male applicants whether they have undertaken sufficient research into their business, and pregnant women being assumed by lending officers not to return to work after having a child.

The report asks banks to think carefully about whether their staff may be negatively stereotyping women, either consciously or unconsciously, and to take measures to address this. 

And it points out that the UK government has a responsibility to investigate this type of discrimination, which contravenes the United Nations Convention dictat on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Equality Act of 2010. 

In fact it states that the government is legally obliged to take action after the disclosure of such discrimination, and such action would mean prosecuting the banks found guilty of such practice and compensating those who have been discriminated against.

Recently David Cameron could be heard pontificating about entrpreneurship being the ‘only strategy’ by which the UK economy could achieve significant growth. 
He also highlighted the need for entrepreneurs to have access to credit from banks in order to thrive. 
I wonder if he was aware that such access would be strongly influenced by the applicant’s gender?
You can download Professor Hertz's full report here.

Monday, 31 October 2011

10 design tricks to turn us all into shopping zombies

This morning, after apparently being quoted in the Daily Mail talking about women's love of shopping, I popped out to the local shop where I'm staying in Dunvegan on the Isle of Skye.
It looks like this (below).

Skye's answer to Westfield? Not a digital waterfall in sight.

I know, they couldn't make it less appealing if they tried.  But there's a certain authenticity to this type of shop;  a corrugated-tin reminder that shopping is just about getting the stuff we need, not a leisure activity.
 Shopping is just something we do in order to live better lives, it shouldn't be the way we live our life.
I wasn’t the first to compare shoppers to zombies (see earlier post and a dazzling analysis by Mimi Spencer in Saturday’s Times) and I’m sure I won’t be the last, but recent news about a million shoppers invading Westfield in its first week of opening got me thinking again about the draw of the mall. And all the psychological tricks that are pulled to make sure the mindless keep searching those seven miles of shop fronts, perhaps in the vain hope they’ll find their lost soul.
Are you being served? Or manipulated?
Westfield’s marketing team are on a mission to make sure the shopper stays for at least two hours. Because the average person won't be able to go for more than two hours without parting with a hefty proportion of their paypacket, and feeling the need to top it off with a cappuchino and a visit to one of its 50 cafes.
Here's how the designers-cum-brainwashers plan the mall to persuade you to suspend your critical faculties and surrender to the goddess of eternal consumption:
·     No clocks for fear you might notice the time (and your life) slipping away and feel compelled to rush empty-handed towards the exit.
·       The soul-less exterior of the mall, anonymous and blank enhances the contrast effect as you enter the sparkling glassy jingly interior.
·       Deliberately disorientating layouts so you get lost and retrace your steps or go off on an aimless purse-splurge.
·       Reflective echoing floors that make the carpeted interior of the shops more alluring.
·       Ditto the harsh lighting in the malls contrasting with the seductive and glitzy lighting of the shops’ interiors.
·       Mirrors on the walls between shops. People slow down when they pass mirrors (vanity) and how can they sell to you if youre rushing around?
·       Slowing your pace down slows your heart rate and even your blink rate, rendering you more mesmerised and gullible. Piped birdsong and a digital waterfall help the coma-induction process.
·       Shopping stretches of a maximum length of 300 metres, about the distance for which buying interest can be held at a peak before waning.
·       Expanses of stores above and around that are visible through glass balustrades and open plan escalators, giving uninterrupted views of tempting targets,
·       Scrupulously clean floors so your attention is exclusively fixed on shop fronts and not distracted by having to step over or around street detritus.
So next time you realise you spent more time in the shopping centre than you'd intended and more cash than you could afford, you'll know how it happened.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Where’s a safe haven for your money?

Simonne gives some wise advice about savings:
We all want to sleep soundly knowing our money's safe....

The world’s stock markets continue to take up too many column inches, and it’s difficult not to worry about how your investments will weather the financial storm. 
So where do you stash your cash when there’s such turmoil the world over?
Investing in stocks and shares still makes sense if you’re happy to put away your money for the long term – in financial speak, that means at least 5 years, preferably longer. One approach to reduce the risk is to drip your money in over a period of months, rather than investing a lump sum and hoping for the best. If you’re worried about the recent turmoil in stock markets, watch this episode of Meaningful Money, with Pete Matthews offering sound advice.
But what if you don’t want to tie up your money for that long? 
Or you’re looking for less risk? Savings accounts are one way to go, but with interest rates so low what other options are there? Here’s are some:

Fixed Interest Savings Accounts If you’re prepared to tie up your cash savings for a fixed term like three, four or five years, you’re likely to get better returns than from ordinary instant-access savings accounts. The Money Advice Service offers some guidelines about getting the most from your savings accounts.

Social Lending This is a peer-to-peer arrangement, so you’ll be lending to individuals rather than to conventional institutions such as banks. The aim is to get a better rate than you would with a bank, but with that comes extra risk. The companies that manage this type of lending are not currently regulated by the Financial Services Authority (FSA) and your capital isn’t protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, as it would be with an authorised firm. But there are methods used to control and minimise the risk to lenders. So you’ll need to weigh up the chance of a higher rate of interest with the increased risk and lower protection. Popular social lending sites include Zopa, RateSetter and Quakle. The Consumers Association, Which?, has a good review of some of the main social lending sites.

Inflation-proofed savings National Savings Certificates used to provide a guaranteed, tax-free interest above inflation and were in great demand, but sadly the door closed to new business early last month. Since then we’ve seen a few banks/building societies offering something similar, including the Post Office. But these accounts aren’t backed by the government and interest earned above inflation is taxable. However, if you hold no more than £85,000 in any one banking institution, your savings are protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme. And they offer a fixed rate of interest above inflation. The accounts currently available tie up your money for a fixed term. A good review of the current selection of savings accounts linked to inflation can be found on SavvyWoman, Sarah Pennell’s, website.

Regular savings accounts If you can commit to save a fixed amount for a fixed term - usually 12 months - there are better rates around, as much as 8% a year, compared to say 3% in a high-interest account. Savings may be limited to £250 per month, though, and you might not be able to access to your money for the whole fixed term. Moneysupermarket is one of a number of comparison sites, which help you weigh up different regular savings accounts currently on the market.

If you’ve got a lump sum of cash to deposit, you could make use of a regular savings account. Run one alongside a high interest savings account, making a monthly transfer from the high interest account to regular savings account, which should increase your overall return.

Structured products have increased in popularity since the credit crunch. They’re usually promoted as a safe way of investing money where you benefit from the upside of the stock market without risking the downside. Typically, your money is tied up for five or six years. At maturity, you get a proportion of the stock market return over that term, and your money back if the stock market has fallen. But be careful, and take time to read the small print. The ‘capital guarantee’ (the getting your money back bit) usually applies only if the market hasn’t fallen below a certain level. This means that if markets fall dramatically, you could lose a big chunk of your original investment. The product may also be backed by different organisations and if the sponsor goes bust, you could lose all your money. Moneyweek’s video warns about their risks.

If you want more advice on savings and some financial coaching, see Simonne's website.