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The real reason why companies offer ‘a month’s free trial’

The real reason why companies offer ‘a month’s free trial’

The real reason why companies offer ‘a month’s free trial’

These days a very common method to build a customer base for service industries, whether it’s Netflix, credit monitoring services or even Graze food boxes, is the ‘month’s free subscription’.  

The obvious reason why companies do this is the apathy dividend – in other words, the hope that they’ll gain as people simply forget to cancel for a month or two. But this is a short-term contributor to profits as there’s actually a more powerful psychology at play here, which I suspect is a bigger win – let’s call it the ‘inertia dividend’.

We human beings are naturally pre-disposed to not liking to lose something that we have. Many people wouldn’t sign up for a movie service that they don’t really need if they had to pay for it, but would for a free month’s trial. They go in with a view to cancelling it when it ends, but at that point they become accustomed to it and now getting rid of it means a loss – and we don’t like loss.

The lust for such things doesn’t bounce back like elastic. We tend to feel the loss of a service far more potently than the joy at its gain in the first place.

An easy example is a salary rise (or cut in mortgage rate). At first you feel happy at the increased disposable income, yet soon that cash is normalised and we’re used to it. Take it away after we’ve adjusted to the new amount and the pain is high.

Just think of the number of people with gym memberships who don’t use them. The idea of losing the opportunity to go to the gym even though they rarely attend keeps them paying month after month. 

This is a dangerous sub-philosophy when it comes to MoneySaving. We have to be clinical and recognise our own biases. It’s important to try and revert your mindset back to where you were when you got it. Ask yourself: "If I didn’t have it, would I pay for it?" If the answer is no then be clinical and ditch it.

After all, if you’re paying for it by the month and you can cancel if you don’t use it, stop using it and then you can choose to sign up again.

I’d love to hear your experiences as to whether you feel you’re tough enough and hard enough to avoid this temptation or whether you’ve been caught by firms’ ‘inertia dividend’ and how much it has cost you.

Is it age or a different generation that makes older people more trusting?

Is it age or a different generation that makes older people more trusting?

Is it age or a different generation that makes older people more trusting?

I was mulling today about my grandmother who is now in her early 90s. A few years ago, before her dementia sadly progressed so far as to make this issue redundant, she would constantly call me after a salesman had come to her door, asking me if she should switch to their product.

When I asked her why, the answer was always the same, "because the salesman told me it was cheaper". I always replied, "Grandma, you know what I do for a job, I promise I have made sure you are on the very cheapest possible tariff."

Yet, for her, the simple fact someone had told her it was cheaper meant they had to be telling the truth. She spoke of coming from a trusting world – my explaining this was just a commission-based seller using it as an opening line didn’t cut any mustard.

I hear similar tales repeated by many people about their parents as they delve further into old age. 

Now, of course there is no universality here. There are many extremely savvy people out there far older than my grandmother. Yet, it certainly does seem, anecdotally at least, that there is a trend of our older generation being more trusting.

What I am interested to know is, is this an age thing or a generational thing? 

Do we tend to become more trusting as we get older or is this about the ‘war generation’? This generation lived through a time when everyone in the country had to pull together and look after each other to enable them to survive, a better mannered time – is it because of this they have a greater belief that most people are honest and trustworthy? My suspicion is that it probably is. 

That’s not to say that younger generations aren’t trusting, but in a different way. In general I am a great believer that most people are good. 

If you ask somebody to do something for you they will generally do it well, even a stranger, without stealing your stuff or letting you down.  I’ve written before of my joy at seeing the person ahead of me in an ATM queue chase after the person in front of them as they’d walked away with their card but left the cash dangling.

However, when it comes to business and the corporate world I believe we live in an adversarial consumer society. A company’s job is to make money, our job is to stop them. Companies will tweak every possible profit-making nipple and at the sales end of it, if that includes manipulating the facts and using sales techniques to create openings, then they will.

I’d love your thoughts – are the older generation usually more trusting? And if so, why do you think that is… (and to know your age too would be interesting in this).

Beware universities mis-selling courses on open days

Beware universities mis-selling courses on open days

Beware universities mis-selling courses on open days

It’s university application time. Hundreds of thousands of potential students across the country are deciding on their top pick institutions and courses. Many will have been on open days and been impressed by the facilities of the high powered institutions that could change their lives.

I’m a huge fan of university education – I think for many (though not all) it can broaden your financial, cultural, and general world outlook. Yet I want to sound a note of caution: how good a reflection of university life is the open day?

A few years ago I went with my little sister to an open day when she was choosing a course. It was a grand university and we got there for a talk on the international relations course. The man who walked in was an eminent professor who is often interviewed by world media – and within the sector, he is rather well-known.

He waxed regally about himself, the subject and the course for about 25 minutes. All looked good; I could see impressed young faces all around me (and some older ones too – many university applicants are mature students these days). 

Then it came to the question and answer session. One bright potential student put their hand up and asked: "How many contact hours do you have with undergraduates?" 

There was a pause, the professor hesitated, then said; "Actually, I don’t teach undergraduates, I only deal with research students." 

So the young questioner clarified; "In other words, we will never see you at all?"

"Correct," said the professor. 

That was it. If it hadn’t been for that bright student, no one would have realised that what they were being sold – the dream of getting (someone who considered himself to be) one of the world’s great minds on the subject – wasn’t a reality on this course. It got worse as people started to ask about practical issues such as whether or not it was possible to take a sandwich course and go to study abroad? The professor didn’t know. This continued, in fact he knew little about the practical details at all – no surprise as he didn’t have much involvement with them.

You could argue it was just ‘spin’, using one of their big names to draw people in, but there are many walks of life where we’d have called this mis-selling.  

I made a complaint to the university about this – and it agreed to look at its practices (which is why I’ve not named it). 

The appropriate halfway house would’ve been to couple him with another academic who was in charge of the course – so you had one to ‘sell’ the subject and the other to ‘sell’ the course.

These days, with the nominal cost of university at £9,000 per year per course (I say nominal because it is actually what you repay not what you’re charged that counts – see Student Loan Mythbuster), universities can’t allow themselves to behave in this old school paternalistic way.

We now have a much more consumer-driven university landscape and it’s important that universities understand that the way they portray themselves, like any other environment trying to attract business, needs to be ethical, clean, clear and above board.

Related Past Blogs:

Don’t shorten your mortgage term if you can overpay

Don't shorten your mortgage term if you can overpay

Don't shorten your mortgage term if you can overpay

This morning a nice lady approached me to ask a quick question about her mortgage. She said that thankfully, her finances were in a good state and she had a cheap variable rate mortgage, so she was considering cutting her mortgage term to be able to clear the mortgage much more quickly.

On the surface this is eminently sensible. Decreasing the term means you pay it off more quickly, which means there is less time for interest to accrue, so you pay less overall.

However, while it is sensible, my question to her was: "I presume you can’t overpay the mortgage?"

She told me she could – in fact she had a mortgage with fully flexible features that allowed her to overpay and even borrow back if she wanted to without penalties.

Overpaying has the same impact as shortening the term

This left me slightly stumped because overpaying has exactly the same impact as shortening the mortgage term, but with the great advantage that you can stop doing it if you want or need to.

Here are some example numbers to prove the point…

  • A 25 year 3% interest repayment mortgage on £200,000
    Monthly cost: £948 | Annual cost £11,380 | Total interest over 25 years: £84,530
  • Shorten that to 20 years
  • Monthly cost: £1,109 | Annual cost £13,310 | Total interest over 20 years: £66,210

As you can see, shortening the term increases the monthly cost, but cuts the total interest by £18,000 – a monumental saving.

Yet she would end up with a very similar result – both in cost and in the time it takes to clear the debt – by overpaying by £160 a month or a lump sum of £2,000 each year – the difference between the cost of each mortgage. (I say similar and not exactly the same as timing issues, and when the interest is calculated, can have a small impact).

If you can overpay your mortgage (and by that I mean choose to pay a variable amount more on top of your set repayments without penalties – rather than formally changing the amount you pay), it’s worth playing with our Mortgage Overpayment Calculator, which shows the impact of single or regular overpayments.

Overpaying is far more flexible

The real key here though is that she said her mortgage is at a variable rate. That means if interest rates rise, as many predict they will, her monthly costs will increase anyway. That could make the payments of the shortened term unaffordable – and there is no guarantee if you shorten your mortgage that your provider will allow you to increase it again (this can be much more difficult to do).

This could mean mortgage arrears because of the inability to pay over the shortened period.

Yet with overpaying, you could simply stop doing so by the same amount, giving you the freedom to control payments.

Overpaying isn’t for everyone

Before you start overpaying – assuming there are no penalties (or shortening your term as the impact is similar) there are a couple of things you need to think through. The first is contrasting the benefit of it against straight savings.

The simple rule of thumb is if your mortgage rate is higher than the after tax rate you can earn on savings, it generally pays, if not – for example, for someone on a very cheap legacy mortgage – you are likely to be better off saving rather than overpaying (best tactic is to put the cash aside ready to overpay in case/when rates rise).

I’d also suggest that before dunking the cash into your mortgage, you consider building up a cash emergency fund of six months worth of bills. This way if something happens you’ve got the cash put aside – rather than locked away in a mortgage (and the fact you’ve overpaid won’t stop them putting you in arrears). For far more on this and much more help see the Should I overpay my mortgage guide.

Thoughts below please.

PS. Having read some of the feedback, it seems after overpaying, some lenders automatically decrease your normal payments. Of course this can help some with cashflow but it doesn’t have the interest and term reduction effect that this blog is about. So when you overpay, ask them to ensure your standard repayments remain the same.

Other ‘interesting’ mortgage stuff I think you may like…

Foodbank financial triage – an update

Foodbank financial triage – an update

Foodbank financial triage – an update

In August I blogged that I was going to fund a radical pilot scheme to get financial triage into foodbanks with the Trussell Trust.

The idea is that when people are asking for food, it’s a great time to try and help them manage their money and see what help is available – so hopefully the trip to a foodbank (to which people are often referred by a health or social agency) will be a one off.

For full details on the scheme and my involvement read my I’m excited to be involved in financial triage at foodbanks blog post.

The Trussell Trust has just sent its first progress report to me, so I thought I’d share it, as I know many of you were interested.

"Six food banks have been lined up to participate in the pilot. They are:

  • Hammersmith and Fulham
  • Stroud
  • Coventry
  • Cardiff
  • Durham
  • Dundee

Plus Tower Hamlets which we will wind into the pilot as they have already implemented a programme which is still running. No money will go to them directly, however we will include their results.

We have lined up and have spoken to all initial Partners: CAP, Turn2us, CMA, Money Advice Trust, CAB.

Following all press including Martin‘s interview, the Trussell Trust received 57 enquiries from potential partners wishing to participate in the pilot. Whilst the above listed have been chosen to participate, the others are being managed until such a time it is appropriate to proceed with them.

Computers have been organised for all trial Partners (at nil cost to the project, sourced through Avios air miles promotion by being their charity partner).

David has visited Northern Ireland where he has put the wheels in motion as follows:

  • Set up and agree terms for NI ( Northern Ireland) using Advice NI.
  • Advertised for a Project Coordinator. Interviews will be held on 13th October."

So we’re about to be up and running. It’s great to see so many people engaging with this.