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.

Affected by the changes to women's pension age?

Simonne brings us up to date on the changes to women's pensions: 
Many women are not so happy about the planned changes....

Women's finances have been in the news again recently.
As we know the age at which women qualify for a state pension is gradually increasing.  And the government has proposed to bring forward the change to retirement age faster than originally planned (as we reported in our Sheconomics February blog).

Back in October 2010, the government announced that it would bring forward the date that the state pension age would become 66 for men and women. This caused widespread concern that it would unfairly impact on women already in their late 50s. Many would have to work up to two years longer than they had planned for.

The latest news is that the Government have responded by postponing these changes for 6 months (to October 2010, instead of April 2010) so that the maximum delay that women will experience will be 18 months instead of two years.

While this is some concession, 18 months is still a long time to wait, with little time between now and state retirement age to plan how to make up for that financial loss.
If you feel that the state pension age rise is unfair and would like to do something about it, Saga are asking for signatures on their petition to lobby the government on these proposed changes to the state pension age.

Click here for an online calculator to help you work out when you're likely to reach state pension age under current rules.

Still confused? If you need a money coach don't forget to check out Simonne's website.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Why materialism is bad for your marriage

Here’s a quick quiz if you’re married or have a partner:

   How important is having money and lots of things to you?
1.     Not at all important
2.     Quite important
3.     Important
4.     Very important

   How important is having money and lots of things to your partner?
1.     Not at all important
2.     Quite important
3.     Important
4.     Very important

Researchers* asked 1,734 couples in the US this question.
The answers revealed a lot about the state of people’s marriages.
If both partners were materialistic (answering 3 or 4 above) they were likely to have a rocky relationship. If both partners answered 1 or 2 their marriage was much more stable and their relationship quality higher.
The researchers concluded that materialism is bad for marriages.
Of course, this is a correlational study so the direction of causality is unknown. Materialism may affect the quality of a marriage, but a bad marriage may also increase materialism.
People in poor marriages probably engage in more compensatory consumption, turning to money and stuff to provide the fulfiment they don’t get from their relationship. I’ve known many women who’ve diverted all their desires into revamping a kitchen or restoring a barn only to discover it was actually their marriage that desperately needed renovation. If only they’d gone to Relate instead of Ikea, they could have saved a fortune and stocked up on happiness instead of granite work-tops.
What more could we possibly want darling?
In the US study 20% of marriages comprised couples who were both materialistic and admitted that money was very important to them. These couples were also better off financially, but their relationships were in a sorry state. Again, there are a multitude of reasons for this. It's easy to imagine the passion-killing effects of over-working to earn more, spending time investing in material things and not in the relationship, and a desperate need to ‘prove’ something to people because of poor self-esteem. 
No-one is saying that poverty makes people happier. Just that money makes poor marriage cement, as this ad in Private Eye years ago demonstrated:
"Spike Milligan would like to meet a rich, well-insured widow - intention: murder,"
Perhaps Spike knew that a relationship based on money wouldn’t work. Not sure we'd recommend his alternative though!
*Jason S. Carroll, Lukas R. Dean, Lindsey L. Call, Dean M. Busby. Materialism and Marriage: Couple Profiles of Congruent and Incongruent SpousesJournal of Couple & Relationship Therapy, 2011; 10 (4): 287 DOI:10.1080/15332691.2011.613306

Sunday, 9 October 2011

10 reasons why men need Sheconomics

Don't let our pinkness put you off - we have lots of bloke-friendly stuff going on. Here's why we think men need Sheconomics too:

·      1. Because research shows your investments would surge if you used your feminine side a tad more. No need to greet your latest dividend with a tearful acceptance speech, it's just about not being over-cocky, a risk-taker or one of the boys. More diverse portfolios, caution and not over-reacting to a volatile market explain why female investors outperform men consistently.

·     2  Because you could learn how to dress for success. Drop that favourite well-worn brown suit off at Oxfam and let someone with a tape measure get intimate with your inside leg. Seriously, people do judge you by what you wear. A lot. Men in bespoke suits are judged to be more successful, confident, trustworthy, flexible and higher earners than their off-the-peg counterparts.

·     3. Because you could suss out how to have cool, non-confrontational conversations about money. And you could have a better, happier home-life if you did so. There are tricks and strategies we can all learn that will make money-chat nicer. No issues. No arguments. Hugs optional.

·    4.  Because you could be a better Dad.  Without realising it parents play more roughly with boy babies than with girls. They let boys explore more than girls and use more emotion words with their daughters than with their sons. Swat up on the significant but subtle ways you can give your daughter the kind of start in life you are unconsciously giving your son. Get wind of some good Sheconomics strategies for raising kids.

     When multi-million selling author Stieg Larsson died suddenly at 50 his estranged family, and not his life-long partner Eva, inherited his fortune. Eva's even having to fight a legal battle to stay in their apartment. No-one wants to think about death but not thinking of those you'll leave behind is dumb.
·     6. Because you overwork your logical left brain and neglect the poor old right. Ever thought about which side of your brain is managing your money? Intuition can be a useful tool, but seems to be the reverse of logic. The field of behavioural economics is obsessed by these concepts because humans are rarely rational decision-making machines. They fall victim to flawed logic, emotional reactions and cognitive biases.

·      7. Because you could realise some of the hidden forces behind financial success, and why it helps to be tall, left-handed and tidy. 
      Yes, we said tidy. No, we’re not nagging. It's just that taller people earn more than shorter people and left-handed people earn more than right-handed people. Things that are hard to change. But people with tidier homes do earn more than people with messy homes. Reason to not drop those socks on the floor?

·      8. Because if you’ve ever suffered death-by-dinner-party you’ll see how company boards make the same mistakes as very dull hosts. Mixing up the guests brings livelier conversations and new perspectives. About 10 years ago Norwegian boards were mostly made up of men with very similar views and backgrounds who went hunting and fishing together. This meant there was a huge risk of group-think in the boards’ decision-making processes, and a real lack of diverse perspectives.
     Adding just 3 women to boards has been shown to increase the company's bottom line by 40% and boost the country's economy.

·      9 . Because emotional intelligence is just as important as IQ. You’ve always known that IQ isn’t all it’s cracked up to be - there are better ways of selecting the right bunch of people to work with.
     Studies show the most effective groups listen to each other, share constructive criticism, have open minds, are not autocratic and use conversational turn-taking to good effect.

·      10. Because we can all learn something from the bagel man. You can tell how much people like their bosses and their work from how much dosh they drop in the honesty box. It could be a good metric for getting to know the health of your company and the happiness of your employees. Honest. 

 Final word from a lovely friend of Sheconomics, Alan Newman of the Finance IT Network:

  • "There's probably some merit to the accusation that the financial services sector is 'male, pale and stale'. The insights from this book - co-authored by a Professor of Psychology and a Financial Coach (who left IFA boredom behind her) - should be compulsory reading for us blokes."