Finances with feeling – stopping cyclical debt

This edition of the Financial Capability Week Guest Blog comes from Quaker Social Action (QSA) is a small, independent charity working in east London and beyond to tackle poverty.

I am talking to a family worker in an east London children’s centre. “I would organise an individual voluntary arrangement or a debt management plan for an individual.” she says “then they would be back in two years’ time with exactly the same problem. Debt advice was not enough, I needed something to stop the cycle of debt.”

Financial information is readily available, and most of us know the basics: we should budget, keep track of money, compare prices and shop around for an energy provider. So far, so rational, sensible, and logical. The problem is – our spending decisions are not rational. If they were, the billion pound marketing industry would not exist.

At Quaker Social Action project Made of Money, our ten years’ experience in facilitating frontline financial workshops with those on a low income has taught us that supplying information, facts and figures alone is not enough to help people regain control of their cash. This is because it is not simply a lack of information that is holding them back. In short, teaching someone how to read a bank statement is no use if they cannot face opening it in the first place.

From our interactions in workshops we realised that, for many people, money habits are formed in childhood, from watching how our parents act around money. A complicated and individual mix of relationships, fears, assumptions and even guilt inform each of our financial decisions.

Before we give any information on budgeting tools, APRs and price comparison sites, our workshops encourage groups to explore their own early memories of money, hidden assumptions, fears and hopes. Knowing that they are not alone, sharing what they may previously have tried to hide, creates a space in which they are set free from emotional restraints and can start to act on their financial situation.

One workshop attendee understands the difference in our approach immediately. “The workshops were linking your emotions to your shopping habits, it was something I hadn’t thought about, looking at patterns of how you are spending. That was really good.”

Through this process, and with the automatic peer group created by the other workshop attendees, our external evaluation has found that changes in behaviour around finances last when people have taken our courses.

“I’m not feeling alone and have been able to talk a lot more about things in the workshops without being judged” one workshop attendee tells us.

The material benefits of the course are plain to see, 89% of those who attend our workshops find themselves financially better off (they have more to spend on essentials).

Because financial difficulties do not present themselves in a vacuum, we use this reflective approach with many community groups including those fleeing domestic violence, those living with a mental health condition and those recovering from addiction.

We find that the link between emotional wellbeing and financial capability does not just go one way.  Those who take our workshops find themselves sleeping better, getting on better with family, feeling better in terms of their parenting, and being able to move on with their lives in ways seemingly unrelated to finances. For example, of those surveyed after workshops in 2015-16, 96% are now more confident teaching their children about money, and 90% say they feel less stressed.

“It was like a journey” one participant tells us “You look back on how far you’ve come and it makes you strong. I’m happy and I’m debt free”.

In our experience, when making a change feels this good, the positive effects can spill over into many more areas of life than simple money management.


About Made of Money

QSA project Made of Money runs financial capability workshops for those on a low income, last year they reached 270 families.  They also train professionals in their inclusive approach so that they can run workshops in their own communities.

About Quaker Social Action

Quaker Social Action exists to resource, enable and equip people living on a low income in east London. They run the Down to Earth project which supports bereaved people on low incomes struggling with the costs of a funeral. They also run the Fair Funerals campaign.


To submit a blog on financial capability for inclusion as a guest blogger, please contact [email protected]

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