Saturday, 19 November 2011

Teaching Money Matters in Schools - WHY?

Home Economics + Basic Arithmetic = Good Kousekeeping!

I've been watching the recent news and developments with regards to the petitions that are floating around the place. They are plying us with reasons to pledge our support to their cause, asking us to help bring money matters into schools as part of our basic education system. To be frank, I just don't get it!

School is a place for children learning the basics needed for their future adult lives, isn't it? These lessons are simple, they establish an elementary understanding of subjects that are important to everyone during future careers, regardless of what that career may or may not be. We can choose to listen and learn or we can tolerate these 'lessons' up until the point we have the freedom of choice to leave school and learn in another capacity - through life itself.

Some may see school simply as a place where children get sent during the day so they aren't wandering the streets with nothing better to do, biding their time until they are old enough to earn. School, like nursery, could even be seen as a place where children go so their parents can carry out activities other than childcare, like earning an income or anything else they see fit to do in the absence of their offspring.

Whatever any of us thinks of school, it is our right to have a basic education and our duty to provide similar for future generations. But it is not our duty to accept responsibility for the bad spending habits of others. We each receive a basic understanding of reading, writing and arithmetic, along with the simple concept of economics, be they home or otherwise, so common sense should prevail. But it doesn't!

Those who should know more than us have burdened this society with false beliefs that we should all be classed as equals, that we should all be able to partake of a decent meal, own designer labels, buy the most up to date gadgetry and possess all manner of luxury items. We should all be able to afford hobbies, pastimes and holidays, convenience and luxury should be readily available, en masse.

They led us to believe that we could all own our own homes and have the basic skills necessary to turn us into entrepreneurs or even just start our own businesses. But they overlooked one fundamental flaw in the plan - the fact that money is not a living entity. It cannot grow naturally, it cannot adapt to its surroundings and it cannot learn right from wrong. It is nothing more than paper, plastic and metal developed, manufactured and controlled by the chosen few who, to their disgrace, have been unable to balance the nations' books.

The concept is simple - take one pile of money, divide it be any number to whom you see fit to lend, then sit back and watch them pay dividends, by way of interest. If those payments fail, charge even more, add on penalties and drive the borrowers further into debt. Offer an array of incentives and promises of a better future, more security, better choices and the potential to feel good and then sit back, watch the borrowers borrow more and spend more, lining the pockets of the chosen few or those who chose to become one of them by sheer grit and determination. They all seem to have one thing in common - a total disregard for others when things, not surprisigly, go wrong. But there are always the get out clauses of insolvency and bankruptcy!

This continual building of debt has now escalated to such a height that even they cannot fathom out an agreeable method to stopping it, let alone putting it right. Their solutions are to print more money, cut back on what they think is 'unneccessary' spending and make it ven more difficult for 'normal' people to build real, reputable businesses that can grow to prosper and employ others.

They price ordinary people out of the market with legislation governing maternity pay, paternity pay, pension schemes, insurances, restricted working hours and minimum wage thresholds, then sit back and await the next emergency move.

But where do they go when all the previous options fail? They need to cast blame further and wider, so now we see the blame being laid on the children... If the youth of today and the common people had learned more, this may never have happened.

Well that is bullshit!

Those who dragged this nation to its proverbial knees were the very people who allegedly benefited from extra education. All their accumulated wealth of wisdom and expertise led us to where we are now, watching and waiting for the next global catastrophe that can quickly be assigned a few billion that adds to the amassed debt. They need huge tragedies, wars and disasters, so future generations can look back on history and point the finger of blame in any direction except that which is true. Nobody appears to have shoulders broad enough to support the burden of controlling what really cannot be controlled, so let's start again - educate the young.

To whom should we look for this teaching?

How and why are the current teaching methods allegedly failing us so badly?

Controlling a company, household or personal budget is nothing more than a combination of basic arithmetic and home economics, so why are so many people so bad at it?

Why isn't a closer look being taken at the education system itself?

Why are teachers failing to teach the basic principles of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division?

Why are parents failing to teach their children the basic skills necessary for survival in a capitalist society?

Is it not possible that some form of brainwashing has swept through our entire Western civilisatio, engulfing an entire generation, and that generation is not the youth of today! Nor even is it their parents' nor their grand parents' generations.

There has always been poverty, unrest, unfair division and class differences. YES! I dare to suggest that we still live within a 'Class' system and I dare to deny the existence of this so-called 'classless society' or equality that was dreamt up by some 'numpty' who thought the only way to cast off blame from those who should have known better, would be to invite society's minions into their lifestyle of wanton greed and waste - offer them more credit, hold them down by debt, if they come out fighting, let them take the blame when it all goes wrong.

So, I guess what I am trying to say here is that, in my humble opinion, people won't learn lessons that they don't want to learn, even if it is taught in schools. Brainwashing is everywhere - it's called advertising! Unless we ignore all of that and accept that debt is caused by spending more than we have, then what gets taught in our schools matters not one jot.

It is up to us, as idividuals, to challenge ourselves to live within our means and if speculative investments need to be made, have a back up plan in the event you don't quite pull it off in time.

Shona Prophett

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

How Much Do You Spend on the Feelgood Factor?

Health and Beauty: The Price We Are Willing to Pay

Recently, a conversation arose about cosmetic surgery and the amount of money some people spend in order to 'go under the knife' for whatever it was they wanted done.

I know people who have had nose jobs, 'surgical enhancements', gastric bands, porcelain teeth and someone, who shall remain nameless, who went on holiday specifically to have a facelift. These people didn't mind what it cost, they simply wanted it done because they felt there was a need for it and that it would benefit them.

So, this post is not about the pros and cons of what people will do in the name of vanity, because we are all guilty of it to a certain level. This is about how far people will go in order to afford something they want, when they want it, and the best ways of ensuring that it is within your means.

For some, this might mean a trip to the local hairdresser, beautician, spray tanning studio or spa, for others it's alternative or complimentary 'therapies', such as relaxation, meditation, reflexology, or hypnotism.

Some people choose to follow diet plans, paying others to tell them how, what and when to eat, using all manner of reasons for why they choose to do so. Or perhaps you pay a monthly membership fee to the gym, fitness centre or health club.

Let's face it, these payments go out on a regular basis over many months, sometimes years, paid by thousands upon thousands of individuals. These are very lucrative businesses that feed on the human desire to look and feel better about ourselves. They are feeding our needs, perceived or otherwise.

But what if you had the option to take a short cut and the money to afford it? There are some who will do whatever it takes to follow the quickest, most convenient route and some who can afford to throw a chunk of money at a cosmetic surgeon, looking upon it as an investment into their longterm well-being.

How far would you go in the name of vanity, sanity and the feelgood factor? Would you look for the best deals? Would you plan ahead and save or would you borrow the money and pay it back later? For many, sadly, their only option is to accept a prescription for 'happy pills' in the hope that they mask their inner feelings of need or despair.

Tummy tuck
Lip augmentation
Cheek implants
Breast enhancement or reduction
Nose job
Cosmetic dental work
Eye bag removal
Lap band / Gastric band

I've checked out the prices for cosmetic surgery, including many of the above, and do you know what? None of them came anywhere close to what it costs to keep a racehorse in training for a single year!

To begin with, this post was written with an entirely different 'slant', as I have never been a fan of any form of pain in the name of beauty.

But the more people I have spoken to and the more I step back and look at it from an ever-widening angle, I can see the point. I can see why X wanted her facial birthmark removed and nose straightened, I can even see why Y so felt the need to pay the price of a 'holiday', returning home with his face in bandages. I can understand the personal decision to have a gastric band fitted, as all of these things can be seen as lifelines to 'better' lives. Growing old, fat or wrinkled certainly isn't easy.
We are constantly falling foul of the ravages of time - Old Man Time and Mother Nature, as a couple, make one mighty force against which no human can fight. If we can't feel good about ourselves then we might as well all give up now, because there is the possibility of living a long life and we can't cast that fact aside if we are already feeling negative about ourselves.

The quest for rejuvenation and a halt to the ageing processes are all around us, yet we seldom stop to consider how incremental each small step of the way really is... and we're all walkiing the same path. We're all heading over the same hill once we've reached the top.

Some people need a psychological crutch to help them make their inevitable, incredible journey through life, while others need something more tangible and obvious.

To be honest, I was stunned by my own previous lack of understanding and ignorant misconceptions, I'm embarrased to admit that I was one of those people who once tutted and shook my head at the mere suggestion of such extreme measures that involve risk-taking, surgical intervention and long-lasting consequences.

That was until I took those few steps back and really looked at the full picture.

How much will you spend during your lifetime in order to feel better about your own life? Even if it's 20 cigarettes, some crisps, cakes, chocolate, alcohol or weekends out socialising, it all adds up and we all spend that money somewhere along the line.

We need to feel good about something, we need to generate some positive energy in our lives and we need to allow ourselves to open up and embrace new ideas, concepts and possibilities that we may never have previously considered.

No, I am not considering undergoing any form of cosmetic surgery, but once I had allowed myself to absorb objective information and opened myself up to the idea that it is not all 'bad', I was amazed at the list I had mentally drawn up for some reconstructive bodywork!

Have your say here or in our Health and Beauty forum. All comments appreciated.
Shona Prophett / NYK Media

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Shona Prophett in the Eurozone? Don't be Ridiculous!

The Chancellor's 3 Rs:
Ring-fencing. Recapitalisation. Resolution

Very funny! But I still think reading, writing and arithmetic are the foundation stones for a successful future and cannot really see how investing in a school curriculum that includes financial awareness of any description will produce any long term benefits. Let's face it, how many teachers do you know who love their jobs, have zero debts and absolutely no money worries? I despair!

So let's get back to the Chancellor's Rs!

On 10th October, Rt Hon. George Osborne stated,

Since July, stock markets are down by 11% in the UK, 12% in America, 23% in France, and 24% in Germany.”

(He thinks that's good because we have the least 'down' at that point.) He then went on to say that bank shares had lost a quarter of their value over the past three months and that his proposed solution to the overall financial problem was the implementation of his three Rs:

Ring-fencing, recapitalisation and resolution.

Correct me if I am wrong, but by 'ring-fencing', does he mean protecting the UK from being dragged further down by the collapsing Eurozone? His statement that we will not be part of the permanent bail-out must surely mean we are unprotected, because the word 'permanently' obviously leaves us open to extended temporary measures!

What about 'recapitalise'?

Is this a fancy word for printing money and another term that could be used for quantitative easing? On the one hand, the Chancellor is stating that all the major banks within the UK economy compare favourably with their European peers (hardly great!) then in the next breath he states that Moody's, the credit rating agency, has downgraded no fewer than 12 UK banks. I'm not even sure if I could name 12 UK banks, let alone all of those that have been included in the downgrading! Where his 'recapitalisation' is going to come from, I haven't a clue.

Resolution – not to be confused with 'resolving' the problem, yet he used the word in such a way as to suggest that resolving the problem with Greece would be the solution.

Well, that and the release of a further £75 billion for “asset purchases”, whatever the hell they might be.

Unlike Mr Osborne's belief that credit easing by way of making the banks lend more money to more small and medium sized business will help avoid a further 'credit crunch', I believe that all it will do is bring more and more companies into more and moredebt. But why worry? With interest rates at an all-time low, we can all afford the repayments! (We can? What if they start climbing before we've amalgamated the old debts and paid off the new ones? One word springs to mind - UNSUSTAINABLE!)

Despite his bravado about the UK having been, “leading the International effort to help the Eurozone find that solution”, our dear Chancellor still states that steps have been taken to ensure we can “ride out the storm”. (No mention of how ferocious this storm really is, nor was there mention of any timeframe for how long we're expected to ride the beast.)

All very confusing in a gloriously simplified way, basically saying that he hasn't a clue what the answer is, but he'll have a good old think about the problem and bring it up again at the G20 summit.

Oh, and by the way, it's looking like we'll come out of the G20 with the biggest structural deficit, but don't worry about it... Georgie boy will resolve to rescue and reform, ring-fence, recapitalise, reshuffle, redistribute and reorganise things so that we may all sleep easy, knowing that any savings we have are rotting in the banks, being eroded by interest rates of less than half the current rate of inflation and that we'd all be better off spending our own money then borrowing more.

With a freeze on council tax and TV licenses, what more could we possibly ask?

Shona Prophett / NYK Media

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Shona Prophett on Writing

Vowels and Consonants are the Pennies that Make up the Literary Pounds

Article writing seems to be the way to go, even if it is just to prove to yourself that you can earn a few pounds from your writing.

It may not be the most lucrative work, as the paid hours involved are usually short, but with so many millions of websites and so much time spent on marketing and social media, there are plenty of people out there prepared to pay for site content - good, bad and indifferent!

You would probably be amazed at how many sites are generating their content from third party sources. Even more amazing, many of these newspaper, magazine and TV forums you visit may have people who are paid to do nothing more than post online comments.

Please note - The Frugaldom forums are NOT like this, they cannot afford to pay me minimum wage to post. It's just not frugal! 

£6-£10 an hour seems pretty usual and £15-£20 per short article is a fair target to aim for in the early days. It may sound quite a sum of money, considering many can produce a dozen articles per day while sitting at home, sipping coffee and running the household, but others tend to forget that many freelancers may average only a few hours of paid work each week. (Do not confuse this type of writing with true journalism, which is more likely to pay on word count, or else an hourly rate of about £20-£25.)

I have seen many writing projects advertised at well below UK minimum wage, but I refuse to apply for them. I would prefer to write here for nothing than churn out automatically plagiarised copy for 25p per page!

Only last week, I found one of MY ARTICLES spun and published on another content provider's site. I was livid! Not only was it really badly reworded, the person who had spun the article was obviously NOT a native English speaker.

How did I know it was my article? The translator/article spinning software had no equivalent for the words 'Frugaldom' or 'frugaleur'!

The Internet is awash with copyright infringements and plagiarism, but there isn't a jot of a lot any of us can do about it, unless we have very deep pockets and are prepared to fight our corner. You need to be able to prove that the negligent party is actually profiting by stealing your work.

NYK has taken a stance on this in the past. On one occasion, we discovered someone producing DVDs carrying one of H's paintings as its main cover image! Although the 'producer' had to cease printing and redesign his labels and was temporarily suspended from eBay, no apology was ever received and eBay officials were hard-pushed to even become involved!

Copyright law is a quag-mire. If you are worried about others stealing your work, try using something like 'Copyscape', but even that isn't infallible. With so many people writing about so many similar subjects, there will always be a case for them claiming it is their original work - basically their word against yours.

I disapprove of article spinning software, I disapprove of automated script writing, novel writing, character development and story writing software - it all makes a mockery of what being a writer is supposed to be, in my opinion.

That opinion may change, if I can be convinced to the contrary. Perhaps the entire publishing industry is in dire need of diversification in order to survive the ravages of technological advancement and the explosion in electronic publishing. My guess is, however, that the glorious publishing industry is already well ahead of the game and will have it within their grasps to control it, too.

Just as newspaper, magazine and book distribution is controlled, so too will be the new writers of the day. We are, afterall, still all little fish in a huge ocean of words and pictures.

My way of dealing with this, especially when losing out on work to non native english speaking individuals, is to concentrate on the home truths:-

I write for me
I write about genuine experiences
I do my own research
I write in English as my first language, Scots as my second
I write for the pleasure of writing
I write in the hope that I may, one day, call myself a professional writer and feel no shame in how I derive my income

I strive to write to the best of my ability
I read as much as I write
I learn something new every day

Sorry for the rant, but I don't think £15 is too much to expect for a 200-word, carefully written article on a specialist subject. (Can you tell I had a haggler?)

I don't care if I'm never asked to produce another article for this particular person again; there's a principal involved.

Word of caution - this is not a good sample article for the 'don't cut off your nose to spite your face' brigade.

Soap box gone now. 

Shona Prophett

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Shona Prophett Ventures Into the Woman Zone

What's With all this Social Media Mumbo Jumbo?

Turning a profit from a virtual standstill is one of the most difficult jobs I can think of, and I've had plenty of jobs, that's for sure. On the whole, I've never been much good at following one particular career route, primarily because I haven't got what it takes to run the red lights of family intervention. A bit of multi-tasking isn't beyond my capabilities but the whole man vs woman equality thing seems to have eluded me. To be honest, I just don't get it.

Wanting to become a veterinary surgeon was one of my earliest career choices - you know the ones, you're about 5, you find a needle and thread, you begin sewing up your bursting teddy bears and err... giving Tiny Tears some stitches. (Or was that just me?) More likely, nowadays, your kids will find a needle and syringe, but it doesn't necessarily follow that they'll grow up wanting to become doctors or nurses.

Next I wanted to become a showjumper, back in the days when HRH Princess Anne rode Doublet and the likes of Marion Mould, Caroline Bradley and Pat Smythe were at the top of their game. The fun of constantly replacing fallen sticks from oil barrels and nursing bumps and bruises eventually wore off, at which point racing one another along grass verges became the game of choice. But it never once crossed my mind to become a jockey. The likes of Willie Carson and Ginger McCain were 'guy names', racing wasn't a girls' game. (Hat's off to the likes of Hayley Turner).

It was OK to want to be a nurse or a receptionist. It was OK to want to be a stable lass or kennel maid. It was even becoming OK to hit the road within a travelling sales environment. Yet it's still a male-dominated world when it comes to making big cash. I don't care how many Dragons in the Den are female, I hadn't heard of any of the women before that programme, nor do I follow them on Twitter. Perhaps I should?

Now that we have a society of information technology whizzkids and social media professionals, it would appear that some sort of equilibrium had been established between the sexes... or not, as the case may be.

Information - Women tend to talk much more than men, we should be better at communicating and getting any message out there.

Technology - Men should be better at that. Let's face it, they hadn't invented the subject of I.T. when I was at school and anything with 'tech' in the name was reserved for the boys. We got secretarial studies, cookery and needlework.

Social - Women are much more sociable. Whether it relates to society or to organisation, communication has to be a key element of this, so the social aspects, you would think, would fall to the women folks.

Media - Men usually hog the remote controls, don't they? Media relates to the methods by which information is spread to the masses, be it in print, television, radio, Internet etc... basically, he who controls the media dictates how, what, where and when particular information gets spread. (Hat's off to the likes of Arianna Huffington, although AOL now practically owns her.)

As for all these Wireless Apps - I'm still of the opinion that many silver surfers think these are some sort of new-fangled undergarments that replaced traditional corsetry. (Forget your surgical truss, Mr P, I'm sure the National Health Service can provide you with a nice, new wireless application instead.)

As you can see, by using this simple thought process, it would appear that men cannot survive without women in this current, technological climate, where social media and wireless communications rule the airwaves. But who is earning the most from it, I ask you?

How many women make it into the Top 100 rich list on their own merits? (No settlements, law suits or inheritances.) I'd be as well asking how many women have walked on the moon! J K Rowling may disagree, but I am omitting female income generated from providing for children (books) and the likes of Jordan (Katie Price) whose blatant glamourisation of the weaknesses of men should teach us all a thing or two.

This is still a man's world whether we like it or not. They have screwed it up over and over through pig-headed spending, pathetic machismo and, some may say, lack of basic common sense. Worse still, their stubborn refusal to see women as their equals means most haven't got a clue about real, everyday life concerning household budgets, let alone the ability to balance the books on a national or multinational scale.

I'll also add that it's thanks to this that women can still reserve the right to have babies and stay home as wives, mothers and homemakers, but their efforts are seldom well-rewarded in any financial sense. The mother of a Nobel prize winner receives no more recognition for her life's 'work' than does the mother of a psychopathic serial killer... you get my drift.

So, I find myself asking this question in all sincerity - who is making money from the likes of Twitter and Facebook? Better still, how?

(c) Shona Prophett / NYK Media

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Shona Prophett in the Frugaldom 2012 Challenge

It's the Final Quarter of 2011

As a long-standing fan of the Frugaldom lifestyle, I find myself gearing up for the next great money-saving challenge, as set by NYK Media in the Frugaldom forum.

For the past five years, a household budget of £4,000 has been set as the target. This excluded rent/mortgage, council tax or work-related expenses. For 2012, we are looking at setting the challenge budget at an average of £15 per day for absolutely everything, council tax included. 2012 being a leap year means the Frugaldom annual budget will be £5,490.00

I should add that this lifestyle has paid dividends, as the savings made over the past five years bought the house outright, so no rent or mortgage to worry about, only the council tax. (For anyone with children, the challenge allows for whatever extra Child Benefit provides.)

The cost of living is extremely 'way out' if we incorporate the costs associated with how we earn our living. Before setting out on this 2012 epic journey, I would recommend you all assess how much it costs you to earn an income.

It has often been discovered that the cost of working far outweighs any previously preconceived ideas about how much benefit it brings the household. A prime example is the low-paid, second income. Often, the person earning that meagre income can save more money by being home running the household as their business than they can financially contribute in extra cash from the job. A penny saved is a penny earned. Do you really need two cars, for example?

Expenses (work-related) that we seldom take into account include:
  • transport
  • clothing
  • footwear
  • lunches, snacks, drinks and hot beverages
  • social activities
  • gifts for fellow workmates
  • increased costs for groceries, when there's insufficient time to bake and cook from scratch at home
  • takeaways, when there's insufficient time to cook at home
  • nursery care and/or out of school hours care for offspring
  • extra wear and tear on a car that you possibly wouldn't need if you didn't go out to work
  • bus, train or taxi fares
  • a family holiday that seems necessary in order to convince yourself that work is worth it
  • gym membership because you haven't the time of day to keep fit in more usual ways...
The list is endless, the costs phenomenal, so start counting up your non-household costs and weigh them up against the overall benefits. Include the stress factor and any other health-related issues.

If I tell you that it is possible to run a household on an average budget of £1000 per person, can you tell me how much it costs if I include the costs of working to pay a mortgage and all that entails? I realise that it's dependant on where you live and work, but commuting looks like a complete nightmare to me.

Of course, sharing your household with others is usually much less expensive than living alone, so it pays to have someone else sharing your space. Letting out a spare room can net you enough to live off for a full year and that extra income, through the rent a room scheme, is tax free! One need never worry about being alone and penniless while that policy is in force.

Here in Prophett HQ, the work costs are minimal - we work from home because we can and because we don't need all that much income in order to survive and enjoy a simple lifestyle. 'We' are 3 adults. I run the household on my own income and anything else gets banked. I don't charge my son the equivalent of room rent, but he does contribute around half the allowable amount. When he chooses to leave home, the option will be there to take advantage of the rent a room scheme. I don't charge 'the other' any housekeeping or rent, as he is the completely independent other with whom I pooled my savings to buy a property.

For anyone who has followed the Shona Prophett updates in the past, you will know that I've ventured into such weird and wonderful challenges as 'comparative investments', involving gambling in all its forms.

For those of you who followed me through my 'Penny Shares' challenge, you will have witnessed the trials and tribulations of watching my Tadpoles (TAD) emerge from the murk, before that murk sank into the LSE mud pile, never to be seen again. A lucky escape, if ever there was one!

Going back further, you might even remember the NYK challenge involving owning a racehorse and getting that out onto a racecourse, more as a stunt to show that it could be done, than for any other reason. That was fun!

All of these things can be done on a tight budget, you just need to be prepared to leap at every opportunity that can help you on your way. You need to adopt an obsession with numbers, a love for number crunching, an eye for a bargain and the attitude that nothing is beyond your reach.

The only certainty in life is death, so make the most of the breathing times.

(c) Shona Prophett
01 October, 2011
Scottish Multimedia