Basic budgeting course

Have you ever considered your relationship with money? Are you a saver or a spender? Could you taste the difference between jaffa cakes from three different suppliers with a 50p price difference? Do you get the end of the month and wonder where your money went?

Financial capability is a key life skill yet most of us have never received any formal financial education. 1 in 10 employees don’t understand all the figures or items on their payslips. 1 in 6 people are unable to identify the balance on their bank statement.  20% people in UK only have 1 month of savings and 60% of adults believe that managing money is more difficult now than it was 10 years ago.

Anne-Marie Ainger works for Transforming Notts Together, part of the Church Urban Fund and with James Henderson from Transforming Communities Together in the Black Country, has developed a basic budgeting course that is helping people gain the confidence to take control of their money. Understanding where our money goes and budgeting wisely is a life skill that everyone needs – most of us could do with improving our skills in this area.

Anne-Marie quotes American pastor Rick Warren who says, ‘When you have a budget, you’re telling your money where you want it to go rather than wondering where it went. A budget is simply planned spending’.

The basic budgeting course is based on the principle that the ability to make smart choices about our money is a key aspect of our lives but few people have had any formal education around money. Coupled with the reality that many are under a huge amount of pressure to make ends meet in an increasingly consumerist and complicated financial world the reality is that many of us manage our money more by luck than judgement. It is a topic that is relevant everyone. However Anne-Marie has observed that it is culturally acceptable to admit to being bad with money and a taboo to talk about money in the first place.

The purpose of the course is to build capacity at grassroots level of how to manage money well. At its heart is a desire to offer common sense support – passing on good old fashioned tips and tried and tested wisdom – the type of friendly advice you might exchange over the garden fence or pass down to your grandchildren.

James explains why the church is involved in helping people manage their money: 'For me, Jesus talked about money second only to the Kingdom of God. If he talked freely and knowledgeably about it, then the church must too. We know that poverty is more than just a lack of resources but many people in our communities are struggling to make ends meet. They are having to daily make touch choices with their money. Jesus mentioned it so much because he knew that with money either you control it or it controls you. Few other things are that black and white. '

How the course works:

Young people from Walsall based charity Talent Match who completed the basic budgeting course

Young people from Walsall based charity Talent Match who completed the basic budgeting course

The course is divided into two 2-hour sessions - the first looking at how to build a budget and the second at a wider range of topics including savings, financial jargon and access to credit.

Some of those who attend the course will then go on to deliver sessions across a diverse range of community settings:  children’s centres, parent and toddler groups, disability support groups, social workers, churches. Others will become ‘budgeting buddies’, passing on elements of the course one-to-one, often informally. The course works best when it’s advertised and delivered through community groups with existing networks.

The course material is interactive and delivered in a non-threatening and participatory way. James worked with a volunteer to look at different learning styles and other money skills courses to develop content that is accessible and interesting.  A key difference is the length of the course which is far shorter than some other money courses.

Participants look at case studies, share their own ideas and tips and think about their relationship with money. One of the most popular activities is the ‘Taste Test’ where participants are challenged to tell the difference between jaffa cakes from three different suppliers – with a price difference of 50p between the most expensive and the cheapest.

The course facilitators are not there to give advice or recommendations but rather to help people to make choices about how to spend their money and, if appropriate, to offer people an opportunity to reflect on their own experience of money. For example, this could be the first time someone has spoken openly about being in debt.

Anne-Marie and James have found that there are many benefits to offering a short, simple and accessible course but that it can dovetail with some of the longer money courses on offer. Their experience has been that doing the simple budgeting course has encouraged some people to go on to sign up for a longer course. Others have been prompted to get further help and support with debt problems.

Not everyone will go away from the course and immediately draw up a budget but Anne-Marie believes that almost everyone will sustain something from the course. Some of these will be small behavioural changes that could make a big difference – starting to save, changing the way they shop, saying ‘no’ to their children’s demands. In other words the course helps people feel confident about taking more control of their money.

After attending a course at a local church, one woman went away and shared what she’d picked up with two other friends. One managed to save £25 each month from her  budget and the other was encouraged to switch gas and electricity providers.

Another woman who completed the course realised that her son, who had recently started work, could be contributing to the household bills and she was also able to help him prepare a budget.

One man realised that even though he uses a pre-payment meter that he could still shop around for the best deal. He’s now going to share this with others.

A newly retired woman who was used to managing her money well and not having to budget, actually realised that she had more than she thought and chose to give some away.

To reinforce their insistence on the importance of good money skills for everyone, James says, “You can never assume with finances. It doesn’t matter on background or income – finance is a leveller.” He has run the course with graduates at Nottingham University- some of whom had mistakenly assumed that a high APR is good.

Anne-Marie’s vision is for each church to have 2-3 people trained as budgeting buddies and for whole churches to be trained up in basic budgeting skills. They would like it to be an open resource that can be adapted for different contexts. It is already being used in Newcastle and Canterbury.

Anne-Marie can be contacted through Transforming Notts Together: