Last Thursday night I did an ITV1 Tonight called ‘Can you save a grand in a day?’ (watch it here). Thanks to all those who sent great comments and feedback, though in the midst a few have commented that the family were wrong – and that we should’ve looked at a family with more severe debts.
Here’s an example email:
I watched your program yesterday on ITV1 at 7.30. While it could have been interesting I’m afraid the family that was highlighted do not represent the true debt real people are suffering.
For instance, the family has 3 cars & 4-5 motorbikes! If they were truly in debt they would have sold these items. (please see footnote on this – ML)
I would request for you to talk to families in real debt such as me & my husband. We have no cars to sell-no motorbikes to sell & no-one to help us.
We are in true debt & I think it should be highlighted to give some encouragement to ‘real’ people actually suffering from debt & not people that just can’t go on holiday or have their nails done.
Many thanks for your time. Nicola”
In many ways I find this slightly frustrating, as I’ve done many programmes on families with far more severe debts in the past, but you can’t do every one that way, and in many ways I think they are actually not good to focus on (I’ll explain in a moment).
On ITV1 the story was that of a lovely family who work hard and have got progressively more worried about their money. They had already started to cut back, but I went in with the team to see what more we could do.
Yet I understand why some feel frustrated about the story, so I wanted to try and explain to Nicola and the others who’ve been in contact why we sought that type of family. These things aren’t made up on the spot; there’s a lot of good reasons why they happen this way.
- This is a prime time ITV1 programme
- MoneySaving is not only for those in debt
- This family ARE representative – fortunately debt crisis isn’t The idea that ‘real’ people are all in debt crisis simply isn’t true. In fact there are more savers than people in debt in the UK. So when doing a makeover programme like this, the aim is to get a family who represents the situation many see and ensure the issues focused on reflect those that are ‘usable’ to most people.
- This is a January money makeover programme
- A one day visit isn’t the way to tackle debt crisis
- Remember this is an on TV makeover
- I can’t work miracles
- I’ve done many programmes for people in hardship and hope I’ll do many more
- TV isn’t the only game in town
It’s important to think of the context here and understand that I do not have carte-blanche to do whatever programme I want. This is ITV1 Tonight; it’s a prime time programme on a non-public service broadcaster. Frankly it’s a fight to get a slot on there anyway; to do so you need to be sure that it’ll get decent ratings.
To get a show on air talking about money is difficult enough, it has to be sexy and direct, and appeal to as many people as possible to get commissioned. As such the concept of ‘how much can we save in a day?’ works. The resources and rating for a ‘follow someone through their long term debts’ simply aren’t available to me.
In the past some of the ideas I most care about have not made it to air, but that’s cool as it’s the nature of the beast, and it’s my job to pitch ideas like anyone else.
Since I first started, I have always maintained the first aim is to cut your bills without cutting back. There’s nothing wrong with helping those who have money to spend it better – you don’t need to be in debt to be a MoneySaver.
So I disagree with the view that ‘you should focus on those in the most trouble’. This family are just as valid to help as others, and by helping them and generating an overall saving of £7,000 I hope it inspired others to look at their finances.
In fact as I write this we’ve a poll on the site saying the majority of users of this site have more assets than debts.
– The average non-mortgage household debt in the UK is £9,000; the average UK personal income is around £24,000 (from memory)
– This family had non-mortgage debt of £13,000 and dual earner combined income of a little over £40,000
So the family focused on are in fact very typical.
They have what I’d define as ‘debt problems but not debt crisis’ (where you can’t meet you minimum repayments).
Add to this the fact that the techniques used for saving money are the same for everyone except those in debt crisis; it means this programme appeals to the 95% of society.
When in debt crisis, as you’re effectively opting out of the system (see debt help for an explanation) the solutions are almost diametrically opposed and therefore don’t relate to most peoples’ situation.
While I do many programmes, January is a ‘back to basics’ sort your cash month, as that’s what everyone is doing. So the aim here is to go through the big ways people can save and show the methodology for doing so.
I’m a massive fan of non-profit debt counselling agencies for those in debt crisis (see the debt help guide). That’s because I don’t think you can do justice or genuinely help someone in tremendous debts in a day – it needs to be an ongoing long-term process. Hence why whenever I’m broadcasting or am asked about severe debt I refer people to them.
And they are the experts at debt crisis – not me. So to do a programme on it actually doesn’t really fit too much (though in the past, out of necessity over discovering much more serious debts than I thought, it has happened).
While many people want a makeover, very few still remain once they realise they need to expose their finances to the public and have their lives discussed in it. The family we used did, and even though I don’t think they’ve done anything wrong, I’ve seen a couple of scathing comments about them – even the question above does that.
So imagine the same for a family £50,000 in debt on a £20,000 salary. The public can be harsh and many don’t want to do it – it is very difficult to find willing volunteers for TV debt crisis makeovers.
When people have no income and have already stopped spending on everything, there is nothing more than can be done. It’s a long-term rehabilitation process of working through creditors and the systems available.
I make no bones about the fact that in that case there’s little that MoneySaving can do to help (with a slight exception for MoneySaving Old Style and frankly that doesn’t make good TV and doesn’t inspire others to sort out their finances.
This is just one programme. In my work I try to focus on a mix of topics (though I don’t have a choice, the broadcasters pick what they want).
Examples of Tonight programmes that resonate for people with less cash include ‘thrifty tips’, ‘bank charges reclaiming’, ‘PPI reclaiming’ and many more specifically on debt (I’ll never forget the Cancel Christmas one of the family £140,000 in debt and on the edge).
Plus on other broadcasts, I’m constantly doing subjects such as payday loans, debt crisis, tax credits, benefit help, loan sharks, financial education and many more.
It’s interesting that many of the comments about this come from the forum. I hope it doesn’t sound churlish to say but I hope that the fact the forum and this site exist with areas like debt free wannabee in itself helps.
The other advantage of this site is we’re in control of the content – so we can put up what we want whether it’s bank charges compared, debt help, IVA guide or (hopefully soon – it’s taken far too long – the guide to mental health and debt, something that’s a nightmare to get TV to cover).
Now please don’t take this to mean I never want to do programmes about the debt nightmare in the UK, I have my MSE charity to help, I’m very passionate about the subject and have many tricks up my sleeve to make some excluded financial subjects televisual.
Yet I need to work within the realities of the medium, and when it comes to makeovers debt crisis as opposed to debt problems doesn’t fit so well.
Footnote: It is worth remembering that what you see on screen is a half hour representation of a full day. For example it turned out three of the bikes were given free and were being done up to be sold on to help supplement income – and the family has two cars (the screen shot included their neighbours) and four drivers.