Iona Bain: Sloppy finances costing us dearly

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Be honest: when was the last time you made a budget? Re-assessed your spending? Switched your current account, mortgage or energy bills? You probably put off these things because they seem too difficult and scary (not to mention boring).

But being sloppy with money costs us all dearly – £7.6 billion a year, to be exact.

That’s the astonishing figure given by the Institute of Inertia (yes, it really does exist) to show the price of neglecting our finances. It reached that number by calculating how much we lose out by staying with the same banks, utility providers and insurers for years on end.

But is this entirely our fault? Or are we victims of a faulty education system? Most of us don’t even have the maths skills to suss out the best deals at the supermarket, according to the Open University Business School.

It asked 2000 adults to sit a personal finance school exam last year. Most of them got questions wrong, while a third of them scored 43 per cent or less. Their teachers probably would have written: “Good effort, but must try harder.”

To be fair, things are getting better. Financial education has been on the Scottish curriculum since 2008. The PPI scandal showed that we need to be eternally vigilant when dealing with the banks. And countless websites and blogs (like mine) have sprung up to uphold consumers’ rights and help people educate themselves about money.

But there is still much work to be done. Unscrupulous firms and alluring advertising can still get the better of us. Young people are particularly vulnerable to spending pressures and misguided financial decisions. The recent story of Kane Sparham-Price, a mentally-ill teenager who killed himself after Wonga cleared out his bank account, is a sobering case in point.

It’s never too late to start afresh with our finances. One instant improvement we can make is to start scrutinising the banks and companies we deal with.

Read your local newspaper and find out what companies are up to. Have a look at ethical banks who lend to charities and community projects. Consider your local credit union. Join thousands of Scots who boycott Amazon and Starbucks for their tax practices. Support your local cafe and bookshop instead. Come to our free workshop on Saturday for lots of advice on how to become an ethical finance trailblazer.

Remember – it’s your money. You decide what to do with it.

Iona Bain is editor of youngmoneyblog.co.uk. She will be hosting a workshop in the free Good Money Week Conference on Saturday at St Andrew’s and St George’s West Church in George Street, starting at 9.30 and ending with lunch at 1.30.