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Making Christmas meaningful

calendar24 November 2016

Joseph Allison's avatar Joseph Allison

Making Christmas meaningful

Do you ever get the feeling Christmas has kind of gotten out of control somewhere? Like we all started planning this nice little thing (maybe a party) and then someone, or a committee of people, just started coming up with more and more (frankly bizarre) things we could add to make it more, you know, ‘Christmassy’?

So today Christmas is about:
and robins…
and TV adverts…
and penguins (seriously, why?)…
and trees...
and tinsel…
and eating and drinking…
and putting on weight…
and then slogging to lose weight again for months after…
and grottos…
and fake snow...
and Christmas presents…

It feels like it’s become more about showing how much money you can splash in a single month. But Jesus didn’t come into the world as the heir to a fortune.

The first people to hear that Jesus was born were shepherds, people who spent all their hours working hard on the outside of town, and were probably, at best, just about managing (to coin a phrase).

It was far later that the Wise Men and their gifts came into the picture. They got lost along the way and, at least once, arrived at entirely the wrong house. Jesus was never rich and, when he went into his ministry, it was the people who were in trouble, financially, spiritually and physically, who he went out and helped.

So, if you ever feel the uncomplicated message of loving one another gets lost amongst the festivities, why not take charge of how you celebrate your Christmas and bring that message back?

  1. If you know in your heart that your ‘best Christmas’ is down to one person in your family working really hard to get everything done, help them out. Working together on Christmas as a family will make their day better and make it more meaningful for everyone. After all, one of the easiest gifts to give someone is the chance to put their feet up for a while.
  2. Think of someone who will be alone this Christmas, in your family or in your community. Why not invite them to your house to celebrate with you? It could make a real difference to their life, let alone their Christmas. Even if they say no, they at least know someone cared enough to ask.
  3. Peace is a rare commodity at Christmas. Take time out from the fairy lights, packed shopping centres and frantic wrapping and carve out some time and space for yourself. Go for a walk in the countryside or local park (leave your earphones in your pocket), soak up your surroundings and take time to think.
  4. Check out what’s going on at your local church over Christmas. Services can be loud or contemplative, for children, adults or mixed family congregations. If you want to hear the Christmas story, you surely won’t have to go far to find something on in your area. Go and see.
  5. Finally, here in the UK there are thousands of people trapped in debt who will today be missing meals and feeling lost, isolated and afraid. When we visit CAP clients in their homes, we never leave someone hungry with empty cupboards – why not help to transform someone’s Christmas this year by donating to CAP’s Christmas appeal for emergency food hampers? For £110 for a family, £35 for a single adult and as little as £20 for a child, you could give the most meaningful present of all this Christmas – these hampers are about so much more than food. Visit to find out how you can get involved.

From me, and all of us at CAP, have a very meaningful Christmas.

Black Friday - what’s the real deal?

calendar22 November 2016

Gemma Pask's avatar Gemma Pask

Black Friday - what’s the real deal?

Ever since the post-Thanksgiving craze travelled across the Atlantic and spread across the UK, Black Friday has sent us Brits into a yearly frenzy of deals, bargains and spending. But are you really getting the most for your money, or could Black Friday see you in the red for the rest of the month? Read on for our advice on enjoying the sales without the stress.

Do you really need it?

As you head out to the bustling shops on Friday (and indeed over the weekend and into next week), there’s a chance it will become very easy to empty your pockets for something you don’t really need. Your head will naturally tell you that because a product is on offer, it’s a ‘must-have’. However, if you weren’t going to buy it in the first place, you’re effectively losing far more money than you’re saving.

You can help to avoid this problem by making a list before you shop. Are there certain presents or bits and bobs you need for Christmas? Add them to the list and keep an eye out for deals that will help you to save on the festivities. That way, if you see something on your list is on offer, you can snap it up for a discounted price, without getting sucked into impulse purchases.

Is it worth the money?

The unfortunate truth is that many retailers use the Black Friday hype to sell off any naff products they’re struggling to get rid of elsewhere. You could be snapping up a TV or other appliance for a fraction of the cost, but it’s not good value for money if it’s going to go kaput in a matter of months. If you ask us, you’re much better saving up gradually to get yourself a more reliable product.

If you do decide to go for a Black Friday deal though, just be sure to do your research first. Which? has thousands of expert product reviews that you can access for as little as £1 – knowing which brands and products are rated highly and which get slated will help to inform your shopping and ensure you bag a genuine bargain.

Can your budget handle the hype?

Unfortunately, your monthly budget is going to be the same whether it’s Black Friday or not, so don’t blow it all in one go. Of course, if you want to go shopping with your friends or family, you have every right to allow yourself a little extra to enjoy the day of deals, but here’s the thing – you just need to be clear on how much you can afford. Before you hit the shops, work out your allowance for the next month, allocate a portion for your sales shopping and make sure you have enough to cover everything else until the end of December. After all, even the most fancy gadgets aren’t worth the stress of getting into financial difficulty.

As always when it comes to money, it’s about priorities. Check out the Money Advice Service's handy Budget Planner to help you figure out your allowance. For a more detailed look at how to manage your money better, why not sign up to a CAP Money Course? With two sessions set over a fortnight, the course is designed to quickly equip members with the skills to budget, spend more wisely and save for the future. There's also CAP Life Skills, an eight-week course with practical sessions on how to live well on a low income, including advice on shopping and cooking on a budget. Go on, give it a try!

Is online spending the problem?

Gone are the days when the sales madness was only found in stores – now it's online too, with crazes like Cyber Monday costing Brits millions of pounds every year. The problem with this is that it’s even easier to spend big, make impulse purchases and blow a lot of money, all with a few clicks of a mouse.

The advice above – making a list, doing your research and knowing your allowance – is still very much relevant when it comes to online shopping. Consider also unsaving your payment details from retail websites. This will help when temptation strikes by taking away at least one element of the ease and speed of online shopping – useful ahead of Cyber Monday.

Could you do more with your money?

Every year, the Tuesday after Black Friday (29 November this year) marks Giving Tuesday, a global online campaign that encourages people to support charitable giving. The campaign aims to shift the focus from Black Friday spending and Christmas shopping to giving something back and helping out good causes.

CAP is a registered partner and there are thousands of other outstanding causes you can choose to support. Pay a visit to to find out more and don’t forget to use the hashtag #GivingTuesday on social media to let everyone know what you’re up to.

Budget recipe binder: Jordan’s veggie jambalaya

calendar15 November 2016

Gemma Pask's avatar Gemma Pask

Budget recipe binder: Jordan’s veggie jambalaya

Jordan says, ‘This is my go-to budget recipe. Sometimes when I’m really strapped for cash, I just don’t add the Quorn and it’s still delicious! I usually double it as well and use 500g of rice – it makes loads!’

Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 35 minutes
Serves: 4
Total cost: £3.26 (All ingredients bought from scratch – £8.25)

3 Linda McCartney chorizo sausages, sliced (98p / 300g - £1.95)
1 tbsp vegetable oil (>2p / 1 litre – 99p)
1 onion, finely chopped (16p each)
1 red pepper, chopped (50p each)
1 tbsp Cajun seasoning (>2p / 45g – 90p)
250g long grain rice (>12p / 1kg – 45p)
400g tinned tomatoes (31p per tin)
350ml vegetable stock (3p / Pack of 10 cubes – 30p)
200g Quorn chicken-style pieces (£1.12 / 500g - £2.79)

Preheat the oven to 200C/Fan 180/Gas Mark 6. Place the chorizo sausage pieces on a baking tray and cook in the centre of the oven for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the oil, add the onions and fry for three to four minutes until softened.
Add the pepper and seasoning and fry for another five minutes.
Add the rice, tomatoes, stock and Quorn pieces, cover and simmer for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally (watch it doesn’t boil dry).
When the chorizo is done, add the slices to the pan for the remaining time.

Handily, the chorizo sausages and Quorn pieces can be cooked straight from frozen.
For those who prefer the non-veggie option, a classic jambalaya uses chicken breast, regular chorizo and chicken stock.
For some serious heat, why not add a dash of chilli powder with the Cajun seasoning or chop up a chilli and add it with the peppers?

*Prices from Tesco, correct at time of publishing

What is financial abuse?

calendar14 November 2016

Joseph Allison's avatar Joseph Allison

What is financial abuse?

It’s a sad reality that abusive relationships still go unreported and unpunished all over the UK. Abuse can affect anyone of any age and any gender, in any kind of relationship. It can take many forms, from physical to verbal and psychological abuse, and also financial abuse.

Financial abuse is when someone controls your money as a way of controlling your life and exerting power over you. Anyone can abuse you financially, including partners, children and housemates.

The abuser may directly take away your cash and bank cards or use your name to make purchases.  They may keep you unemployed or stop you from progressing in your current job. They may build up debts in your name or damage your possessions or property and, in doing so, dictate what you have to spend your money on.

They may even continue to abuse you financially when you’re separated or no longer living together. A former partner may withhold child maintenance payments as a form of control and ‘punishment’ for not staying with them. In this way, a financial abuser may put you in a situation where you feel you can’t leave the relationship because you believe you couldn’t survive on the money you have left - again, controlling your life and potentially opening you up to further abuse by making you stay.

There are many different ways in which financial abuse happens and it’s as serious as any other form of abusive behaviour.

Although it can happen to anyone, a recent study found that six out of ten victims of financial abuse are female. Women are generally more likely to stay in these kinds of abusive relationships rather than leave them. More than three quarters said that they had waited for more than five years to leave their partner, as opposed to just under a quarter of men who had waited that long. What’s more, a third of financial abuse victims said they hadn't told anyone that it was happening. Victims like Janet*, a former CAP client, who told us:

‘I married a guy who didn’t earn much money himself and I was so in love with him that I allowed things that I shouldn’t have. I made the mistake of giving him access to my credit card account and he just spent and spent. I was made redundant from my job and he just carried on spending. Even when we separated, it continued – he wasn’t paying his bills and they’d come through to me.

‘In the end, I got a legal summons saying I was being taken to court because I owed about £85,000. I also found out that I’d not only been keeping my husband, but his second wife and child too!’

Janet's story is an extreme example of financial abuse and resulted in her falling into a severe amount of debt. Sadly, at CAP we see many people coming to us for help as a result of this kind of abuse. While some, like Janet, have thankfully managed to get debt free and got their lives back on track, there are no doubt many still out there struggling in silence, risking debt for no other reason than they've put their trust in the wrong person.

So what help is available?

Refuge, a charity committed to protecting women and children from domestic violence, has launched a new campaign called My money, my life and has produced a financial guide as a resource for people who have experienced financial abuse. Working with the Co-operative Bank, the campaign looks to drive change across the banking sector and help people suffering to find it easier to seek help. To find out more, click here.

You can also find lots more information on what constitutes as financial abuse, how to protect yourself and where to find help here.

Most importantly, don’t suffer in silence. If you’re in debt because of any form of abuse, give us a call on 0800 328 0006 and we’ll do our best to advise you.

Benefit cap: what does it all mean?

calendar07 November 2016

Gemma Pask's avatar Gemma Pask

Benefit cap: what does it all mean?

You may have received a letter recently telling you that today (Monday 7 November) the benefit cap will be lowering. Letter or no letter, it can feel like a lot to get your head around, especially when there are figures and jargon flying all over the place. And, of course, the prospect of having a chunk less money can naturally be concerning, especially for those already getting by on a low income. So we've tried our best to break it down for you here, helping you to understand the changes and whether your household will in fact be affected at all. We hope it will put your mind at rest, but remember, if you're worried about getting into debt, you can always give us a call on 0800 328 0006.

What is the benefit cap?
The benefit cap is a limit set by the government on how much money working age people (aged 16 to 64) can claim in benefits per year. It was first introduced by the coalition government in 2013 (May 2016 in Northern Ireland) and was set at £26,000 for most dual and single parent households and £18,200 for most single people living without children. In July last year, the government announced it would be making £21bn worth of welfare cuts, which would include lowering the benefit cap.

What will be changed?
From Monday 7 November, the maximum amount of money you're allowed to claim each year will go down, and will depend on who you live with, where in the country you live and which benefits you are in receipt of. The cap will be jointly administered by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and Local Authorities (LAs). Initially, it will be deducted from Housing Benefit payments and will eventually become part of the Universal Credit system. There's a chance you might not see any change immediately as the cap is set to be rolled out across several Local Authorities at a time from now up until the end of January 2017.

  • If you're a couple with or without children living with you, and you live outside of London, you'll now be allowed to claim £20,000 per year.
  • If you're a single parent (with children who live with you), and you live outside of London, you'll also now be allowed to claim £20,000 per year.
  • If you're a single person, you don't have any children (or they don't live with you), and you live outside of London, you'll now be allowed to claim £13,400 per year.
  • If you're a couple with or without children living with you, and you live in London, you'll now be allowed to claim £23,000 per year.
  • If you're a single parent (with children who live with you), and you live in London, you'll also now be allowed to claim £23,000 per year.
  • If you're a single person, you don't have any children (or they don't live with you), and you live in London, you'll now be allowed to claim £15,410 per year.

Who is included?
It's estimated that around 88,000 out-of-work households will be affected by the new cap. Most people between the age of 16 and 64 who currently claim benefits will see a change, but there are lots of exceptions.

  • You won’t be affected by the cap if you or your partner work, are eligible for Working Tax Credit or get Universal Credit (with a household income of more then £430 a month after tax and National Insurance).
  • If you're old enough to apply for Pension Credit (whether you actually have applied for it or not), you'll also be exempt.
  • Not all benefits are included in the cap - click here to see the full list of inclusions and exclusions.
  • For the most part, however, if you are going to see changes to the maximum amount of money you can claim, you will have been notified by letter, so it's worth having a sift through that pile of post.

Where can I find out more?
There's plenty more information on the government website and from the Money Advice Service. If you're still unsure whether or not your household in particular will be affected by the changes, try the benefit cap calculator which should give you a more individualised explanation.

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