VICTORIA BISCHOFF: Families urgently need a break from financial doom and gloom to take stock
Our collective household finances have endured a rollercoaster 18 months.
First came widespread panic as the pandemic took hold in March 2020, leaving families fearing for their livelihoods and investors rattled by a serious stock market wobble.
Next, a startling divide. While many struggled to make ends meet, others fortunate enough to keep hold of their jobs and confined to their homes built up a treasure trove of savings.
Living costs: Just when you would be forgiven for feeling optimistic about the future, the spectre of inflation reared its ugly head
Then, as the country finally began to get back on its feet after lockdown, many of these accidental savers became spenders, splashing out on as much fun as money could buy.
Others became first-time investors in a once-again booming stock market, or rushed out to buy a new house, driving up property prices to a record high.
But just when you would be forgiven for feeling optimistic about the future, the spectre of inflation reared its ugly head.
And as the cost of living starts to soar, many families are back to feeling panicked.
On Monday, Chancellor Rishi Sunak dashed any hopes of tax cuts in the near future and defended plans to hike National Insurance contributions next April.
That’s on top of a stealth hike, which will see more people pulled into the tax net after personal allowances were frozen for five years.
It’s clear struggling households are at breaking point.
So while Money Mail would welcome a sweetener in the Autumn Budget on October 27 — be it a cut to fuel duty or a one-off saving on energy bills — for now, no news would be good news.
Families urgently need a breather from financial doom and gloom to take stock. That’s why this week we’re publishing expert tips on saving and budgeting, to help you do just that.
Send in your ideas
Speaking of rising bills, my new husband Chris never remembers to turn off the bathroom light, repeatedly boils the kettle after forgetting he’s put it on and has a bad habit of leaving the fridge door open when making dinner.
Yet while I’m quick to scold him for wasting energy, we both know it’s me who is first to crank up the heating as soon as there is a nip in the air.
Well, no more. With power bills set to soar this winter, it’s time we both made a concerted effort to reduce our usage.
So if you have any top energy-saving tips to share, I’m all ears. Write to me at the email address below.
Ask any expert what you can do to protect yourself from fraudsters and they will always advise never to click on links in text messages or emails — particularly those asking you to make a payment or share your bank details.
So I was exasperated to receive an email last week demanding I follow a link to pay a hotel bill after making a reservation through Booking.com.
After calling the hotel to check it wasn’t a scam, the customer service rep assured me the link was secure.
But that’s not the point. Sending emails that fly in the face of basic fraud prevention guidance will only make it harder for customers to avoid common scams. I’d urge all firms to rethink sending out this type of payment request.
My friend Holly and I set up an exclusive book club a few years back. We are the only two members and it really just involves us, at the pub, exchanging a stack of ‘grippy’ thrillers purchased from charity shops.
After misplacing her latest page-turner, The Chain, I jumped on Amazon to buy a replacement. When it didn’t arrive, I bought another, only for both to turn up.
Yet when I tried to return one, the online giant essentially told me not to bother. I could opt for a ‘returnless refund’, it said. This meant I’d get my money back, but could also keep the extra book.
Obviously it works out cheaper for Amazon to dish out refunds for low-value items than process returns.
But while this also makes life easier for customers, it seems rather wasteful and I can’t help but wonder how many deceitful shoppers are abusing the policy.
Although perhaps hardened thieves have their sights set on bigger prizes than a £5.99 novel.