What are you hoping to get this Christmas? A financial education is probably last on the list. Yet it might be by far the most useful and, dare I say it, insightful gift you can receive. For anyone who simply makes money and spends it again – a lot of us, given that one in four British adults has no savings – we could always benefit from tips on how to save, budget and plan for the future, as well as a better understanding of some of the jargon, such the the difference between APR and AER.
If you do decide to invest in your financial education, consider the benefits: the gift will pay itself back above and beyond within 12 months, and you can enter the New Year feeling as if you’ve already stepped onto the hallowed path of self-improvement. You might even enjoy it. So, in the Christmas spirit, here are a few suggestions of my favourite money-related gifts to either buy for someone else - or just to treat yourself.
1) Money: A User’s Guide by Laura Whateley, £4.99 (Kindle), Fourth Estate
This is the personal finance book we’ve been crying out for. It covers everything from credit cards and savings accounts to how to deal with money in relationships, a neglected subject given that, according to a charity called Relate, money is one of the main causes of an argument between couples. It’s small, compact and delightful. Check out Laura’s pieces for Starling on how to feel better about your finances and how to rent well.
2) The SavvyWoman Podcast by Sarah Pennells
Before you do anything else today, stop and listen to Sarah Pennell’s women-focused financial podcast. It covers everything from investment and explaining the basics of tracker funds to money and mental health, pensions and the single woman pay gap - something we need to hear more about. The podcast cleverly illustrates that money is not just about what goes in your pocket, or comes out of it: how we manage and understand our finances is integral to most aspects of our lives.
3) The Meaningful Money Handbook by Pete Matthew, £5.62 (Kindle), Harriman House
Pete Matthew, a certified financial planner, started his YouTube channel about money in Cornwall, and he could be spotted posing on a windy cliff or a sunny field, happily talking about pensions, investments and how to achieve your life goals in an accessible way. His channel - still going strong - attracted sponsors and became a book. Although the book doesn’t replace getting financial advice, it certainly describes some of the best ways to plan ahead for you and your family. Have a listen to his Meaningful Money podcast too.
4) Little Black Book: A Toolkit For Working Women by Otegha Uwagba, £2.99 (Kindle), Fourth Estate
This Sunday Times bestseller may have “working women” in the title but anyone, especially people working for themselves, would find this little book extremely useful. Freelancers know the headache of invoicing, negotiating terms and chasing payments, along with building your brand and self-confidence. Otegha is someone I feel is worth listening to – she’s a successful journalist, speaker and brand ambassador, and her no-nonsense approach is a gift.
5) Spare Change: How to Save More, Budget and be Happy with Your Finances by Iona Bain, £3.83 (Kindle), Hardie Grant Books
How can you still socialise when you’re on a budget? How can you get to a place where you feel happy with what you have? One of the first books to hit the scene on personal finance, Iona Bain’s Spare Change is a trend-setter and a great introduction to the world of taking those first steps on your own, like saving and budgeting, as well as thinking about the future. It also targets younger people - an audience that desperately needs more financial education.
6) Your Money Or Your Life, by Vicki Robin, £12.99 (Kindle), Penguin
Want to change your psychological relationship with money? Yes please. This book sets out to do just that, and is particularly useful for those who are starting to manage their own finances and who may be anxious about it. If you change the way you think about money, Vicki Robin argues you can come closer to achieving your life goals, as well as living in a more meaningful and fulfilling way.
7) 50 Economic Classics by Tom Butler-Bowden, £4.99 (Kindle), Nicholas Brealey Publishing
If you want to go a bit deeper on the history of economics, this book is the ultimate cribsheet. Whether you want to read up on author and social activist Naomi Klein’s explanation of neoliberalism, understand why we have “asset bubbles” and what happens when they burst, or how inequality has grown according to American economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, this book explains complicated topics in a relatively uncomplicated way. This gift would be great for anyone who wants to know how the world works on a more macro level and how it affects their pocket.
8) The No Spend Year: How you can spend less and live more by Michelle McGagh, £1.99 (Kindle), Coronet
It sounds impossible, but apparently not: Michelle McGagh, a financial journalist, set out to prove that she could save thousands of pounds simply by doing practical things like packing her own lunches and cycling to work. In the course of a year, she spent nothing at all, apart from a minimal weekly budget for groceries and paying her bills. IN LONDON. If you’re wanting to learn how to take back control of your finances and learn more about money along the way, as well as shake your head with awe and disbelief, this book is a good place to start.
9) Planet Money podcast, NPR
Money really does make the world go round - in strange and wondrous ways. Ever wondered how much your mugshot could be worth, or why the price of Coca Cola didn’t really budge in 70 years? These 20-minute podcasts are wacky and wonderful, and they also promise to explain what’s happening in the economy as easily as if you’d asked the question to your friend in a bar. Although many of the episodes are US-centric, the material is presented in a fun and educational way, posing big questions about the world we live in today.
Two podcasts in one point because, between them, you can get pretty comprehensive and relatively simple advice on most finance-related subjects. For example, there are episodes on managing debt, advice for students leaving home for the first time, and understanding why stock markets behave in the way they do. The Maven Money Podcast is hosted by financial adviser Andy Hart, while the voice behind Money To The Masses is Damien Fahy, a certified financial planner and author of The 30 Day Money Plan. Not every episode will suit the first-timer, and equally, there are more in-depth topics for more experienced investors, so have a scroll through the archives.
11) Investing: starting small
Forget Amazon or iTunes vouchers – why not use the money to try out investing? With a small amount of money, there is limited damage you can do, and it will give you the knowledge and confidence to just play around with investing and see where it takes you. Online investment platforms such as Moneybox or Wealthify can get you started for as little as £1, and many of them operate in the same way – by investing your money into a pre-made portfolio of low-cost passive funds which follow the markets up and down. First, you have to fill out a risk questionnaire to see which mix of investments is right for you - it might be lower risk funds, if you have a shorter time horizon, for example, or if you have a longer time frame and a higher appetite for risk, the funds in your portfolio will reflect that too. Remember that the higher the returns you are aiming for, the more risk you have to take. And before all that you have to sign up to the investment app, so get cracking.
Investments in stocks and shares can go down as well as up, so you should only ever consider investing for the long term to iron out the swings. You should only undertake this kind of investment if all your other financial needs have been met. Start small.
Another option is to buy a premium bond for £100 with the National Savings & Investments, the biggest collective savings product in the UK. Premium bonds don’t pay interest, but it means you’re in with a chance of getting a tax-free monetary prize every month, kind of like a lottery. Fun.
12) Piggy banks are not just for kids
If fashion labels like Kate Spade make piggy banks, then there’s nothing childish about it. Saving spare change also gets us into good habits. Best for: anyone who likes to see their cash in front of them, or anyone who is always in need of bus fare.
Also works for people who like to take their full-up piggy banks to the Post Office to deposit coins into their Starling account and walk away with a tiny fortune. (You can also give it to charity). And if it's a digital money box you’re after, Starling has just introduced its Round Ups feature, which lets you round up transactions to the nearest pound and add these pennies to a savings Goal of your choice. You can multiply your Round Up by 2x, 5x or 10x if you want to increase what you save, each time you spend.