Should you rediscover thrift?

The PM - while guzzling eight-course meals in Tokyo - wants us to waste less. And he's right. Take credit cards: they're very expensive.  So how can you make sure you pay as little interest as possible?

It is getting harder and harder to dig up any sympathy for Gordon Brown. Here we all are at the beginning of what looks like it will be one of the most unpleasant economic periods for decades and he suggests we ease the pain by eating more left overs.

"If we are to get food prices down," he said as he left for the $280m G8 meeting of global leaders on Sunday, "we must also do more to deal with unnecessary demand such as all of us doing more to cut food waste which is costing the average British household about £8 a week." It is of course absolutely idiotic to think that UK consumers can move the price of wheat by eating mouldy bread any more than to think we can affect the temperature of the earth by taking our TVs off standby. But on the plus side, at least Gordon seems to be getting the hang of the prudence thing at last, and I suppose saving the £8 a week - £416 a year might go some way to help with our rising fuel and supermarket bills.

Why you should move any credit card debt into a personal loan

However there are ways to save more and in a slightly less trying way than, as the Daily Mail puts it, working to "rediscover the thriftiness that was once a watchword for British housewives." Anyone in debt should start with this.

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There was a period last year when the growth in unsecured debt (credit card debt, personal loans and so on) actually fell. But it didn't last long. Now it is on the up again at an annual rate of 8% and the average debt is a nasty £22,000 much the same as the UK average pre-tax wage. Overall, as a nation we borrow 69p for every £1 we save, says that's far too much.

If that debt is in the form of a personal loan, it might not be costing you too much in interest (although all interest payments are wealth destroyers and most debt is bad debt). But if it is in the form of credit card debt, it most certainly is: the typical interest rate on this comes in at around 15-16%. That makes it a good idea to move any credit card debt into a personal loan if you can: typical rates here are more like 8%.

A great new deal for those with costly credit card debts

Otherwise, if you move fast, says Martin Lewis on, you might be able to get your hands on a new deal being offered by the MBNA life of balance card. This allows new cardholders to transfer their existing credit card debt to it with no fees at a rate of only 5.9%. Better still, this absurdly low rate lasts until all the debt shifted is repaid as long as you make the minimum repayments every month and you make them on time (this is important miss a payment and you'll lose the 5.9% rate).

This, says Lewis, is quite a deal given that it "undercuts all loans and many mortgages." However odds are it won't last long, so anyone with "costly credit card debts" should grab it now. Anyone who misses it can look instead to Barclaycard, currently offering at rate of 6.5% for balance transfers, if you have a good credit rating.

That done, they should immediately get to work paying down the debt: if you could afford to make your minimum payments at 15%, you can afford to pay an awful lot more than the minimum payment (which usually runs at about 2% of the debt) at 5.9%. And the faster you pay the debt down, the faster it will disappear and the lower your overall interest bill will be. Pay just £10 a month over the minimum payment, says an amount you could save just by following Gordon Brown's instructions for just 10 days! - and you "could halve the time it takes you to pay off the balance on your credit card."

Have a look at what Gordon himself was eating on the day he told us all to eat more leftovers

To get a good deal on a credit card, compare low-interest credit cards. Or better still, compare savings accounts and put some money away.

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Merryn Somerset Webb

Merryn Somerset Webb started her career in Tokyo at public broadcaster NHK before becoming a Japanese equity broker at what was then Warburgs. She went on to work at SBC and UBS without moving from her desk in Kamiyacho (it was the age of mergers).

After five years in Japan she returned to work in the UK at Paribas. This soon became BNP Paribas. Again, no desk move was required. On leaving the City, Merryn helped The Week magazine with its City pages before becoming the launch editor of MoneyWeek in 2000 and taking on columns first in the Sunday Times and then in 2009 in the Financial Times

Twenty years on, MoneyWeek is the best-selling financial magazine in the UK. Merryn was its Editor in Chief until 2022. She is now a senior columnist at Bloomberg and host of the Merryn Talks Money podcast -  but still writes for Moneyweek monthly. 

Merryn is also is a non executive director of two investment trusts – BlackRock Throgmorton, and the Murray Income Investment Trust.