Taking control of money worries

Hafsha, founder and director of SmartLyte which helps people in Birmingham develop essential life skills, tells the story of Rana and how she developed digital skills to help her manage money.

Rana left her small hometown in Egypt to move to Birmingham in the UK for a better life. She imagined a future where she would learn English quickly, have her own money and be able to work to support herself independently.

After the birth of her two children, Rana was living in a two-bedroom council house and started to learn very basic English.

Slowly she developed the confidence to join one of the few friends she had made locally and attend the English Language coffee group in the local library. Then she came to our centre having heard about us from her new friend.

Rana soon began to use the internet to learn about budgeting and money management skills. By doing this, she also found her English skills were improving. She learnt about ways she could make her Universal Credit benefits last further and where to get the best shopping deals. After paying for bills and essentials, she even hoped to be able to put some money aside for emergencies.

But unexpected events plunged the family into severe debt – eventually leading to bailiffs turning up unannounced, frightening Rana and her young children. The anxiety and stress she felt was at times unbearable. She felt like she was losing control of her wellbeing and sanity.

But by attending classes at the SmartLyte centre, Rana was able to find some relief and get free advice on how to manage her situation. She felt better now things were under control and she had ways to look after her children in an emergency.

This year, things suddenly got worse during lockdown when Rana’s fridge freezer broke. She found a cheap second-hand appliance online, but her partner had recently taken out a loan secured against their joint benefits. There was now even less money to buy food and certainly no money for emergencies.

SmartLyte acted swiftly by organising a weekly food bank delivery and by helping her apply for one of their £150.00 Covid Resilience grants. She was awarded the money shortly after and was able to buy the fridge freezer.

Rana felt relief as she saw the money go into her account. But she was also able to think about the long term – practising some of the negotiation skills she had learnt from the sessions at the centre. She made a lower offer for the fridge freezer and saved the rest.

Just 12 months ago Rana had no control over her family’s finances. She felt alone, confused and trapped. She didn’t know, nor did she care about how much money was left or spent. Now, with the help of digital, she is able to ask the right questions and not feel so in the dark about her financial situation. She asks “How much?” and why?” and looks for pennies that she can tuck away into her bank account. Although she is still in a difficult situation, she is using digital to take back control of her life.

Hafsha Shaikh

Director of SmartLyte

Hafsha is the founder and director of SmartLyte, which helps diverse communities engage in accredited training programmes and develop essential life skills.