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BLOG: What we can learn from the savings habits of our European neighbours

Written by: Simon Ripton
According to the European Commission, workers in Britain don’t save as much as their European counterparts, putting away 5% less at the end of the month from salaries than those in Sweden, Germany and France. So, what savvy saving habits can we learn from our European neighbours to help us get ahead of the game?
  • Keep it in the family: In Britain, we’re probably the least comfortable country when it comes to talking about money, even with our nearest and dearest. One study found we find talking about sex easier than discussing our salaries. In contrast, Swedes are far less likely to find the subject of money a taboo. While it might be awkward at first, talking to your loved ones about your financial goals, like saving for your first home, could provide much-needed help. Depending on circumstances, not only could your family provide sound advice, but some might be able to help contribute financially to your goals, too. Swedish couples may be fairly self-sufficient, but they usually receive a good contribution towards their wedding from their parents, for example.
  • Wave goodbye to ‘get rich quick’: When German savers were asked their main motive for saving, almost a third singled out old age. A cautious attitude towards short-term spending is a big reason for this. By taking a longer-term approach to savings, they are less likely to raid their savings pot for impulse buys. So, if you don’t need the money immediately, consider using fixed-term accounts to lock away your cash. Not only will this stop you spending on a whim and help you towards your future goals, but you’ll generally earn higher rates of interest too.
  • The Great British home-ownership dream: One aspect that disadvantages us is the British property dream – there’s no doubt that mortgage payments take up large amounts of income, and an initial deposit can be a sizeable amount of cash. Across the channel, there’s a much more relaxed attitude to owning property. Germany has the greatest proportion of home-renters in Europe – only 39% own the home they live in. And just over half of French people own the properties they live in. In contrast, many Brits see renting as just a stepping-stone to owning a home. That’s not to say Brits should give up on homeownership, but perhaps we need to be more realistic. When you start saving to buy a home, think about what size of house you realistically need and consider whether renting, or staying with parents a little longer, may help you build a healthier savings pot in the long term.
  • Take to the streets: Travel costs in London and across most cities in the UK are a lot higher than the rest of Europe. We’re always being told to walk or cycle to work, so to help boost savings why not adopt a healthier approach to commuting and save some money at the same time? The French like to divide their journey and walk the last part, saving money on inner-city parking charges. Or try cycling – it’s free, the vast majority of residents in places like Copenhagen do it. So much so, that there are more now bikes than cars in the city. Some studies have shown the average motorist spends over £2,000 on petrol each year, so it’s a good option to help cut back on a big expenditure.
  • Shop around for a bargain: In Britain we’ve got best-buy tables for almost everything, so spending time comparing the market can save a lot of money on household goods and services, for instance. In Sweden and France people tend to go a little further still to save on day to day expenses. In Sweden, most people live by the simple mentality of ‘if you don’t need it, don’t buy it’ and simply refuse to part with their cash unless it’s necessary. In France it’s all about second-hand bargains, with Europe’s biggest flea market Braderie de Lille held annually. But Brits are known to splash the cash, and are predicted to have spent £1.9bn across the infamous Black Friday weekend. Next time you buy, try asking yourself if you could find it somewhere cheaper and do a little digging. You could find you save yourself a small fortune.

Simon Ripton is head of consumer banking at Ikano Bank

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