“I knew I'd be able to make some money from it, but when you work in the gig economy, you never know when the next paycheque’s coming,” recalls 32-year-old Mark, from Skipton, North Yorkshire. In his early twenties, Mark left his job as a BT engineer to become a freelance close-up magician after a period of depression made him reassess his career.
In his first month, he had £1,000 of work in the diary. “I thought, that's not bad, but it’s not going to pay the bills,” Mark says. He also knew this wouldn’t be enough to enable him to buy his own house or car.
Luckily, through performing at weddings and corporate events, Mark’s reputation grew and before long he was earning £3-4k a month. Wedding fairs were a big source of business: “The best one I did was when I came out with £7k worth of work within four hours.” By charging £400-500 for a job, before the pandemic Mark’s average annual income was between £35-40k.
“I realised I was spending far too much money on follies, on nights out, and I didn't want to be doing that anymore.”
He was in a comfortable place financially, but his spending habits and penchant for shopping were preventing him from reaching his goal of home ownership. Mark would go shopping frequently and spend mindlessly. “I loved going to a designer outlet and just buying things. I collect aftershaves, so I’d think nothing of going into a high-end aftershave shop and spending £300-700 without thinking.”
The turning point came after a “wild night out” in Manchester with a previous girlfriend, during which he spent £300 on a meal and taxis. “I looked at my bank account a few days later and thought, that was ridiculous,” Mark remembers. “That was when I realised I was spending far too much money on follies, on nights out, and I didn't want to be doing that anymore.”
Two and a half years ago, Mark joined Monzo. “It spoke to me: being able to communicate with an official bank in a way that I understood, rather than being called Mr. Waddington, was refreshing,” he says.
Other banking apps never did what Mark wanted them to do. Monzo’s instant spending notifications were particularly game-changing for his finances. “Monzo gave me the opportunity to think about what I was spending. You get the notification saying you've just spent £23. I suddenly knew how much I’d spent on any given day. Whereas before, I’d tap my card and have no clue.” This gave him a greater feeling of control over his spending and savings.
Pots were also instrumental to getting Mark’s money in order. A single parent with sole custody, he has a Pot that acts as a savings account for his daughter. He puts £5 into it every Monday, “but I can dip into that if she wants to buy a certain expensive toy or a bike or whatever,” Mark explains. He also has a round up Pot, which he spends monthly, and currently contains £33.
“Before I know it, I’ve got £100 or so sitting there and there's another night out, another meal out or a bottle of aftershave.” He says of the round up feature: “It gives you the opportunity to make your money stretch further without thinking about it.”
Mark also linked his Monzo account to IFTTT and created several rules to maximise his saving potential. He has a Pot for the 1p Challenge, which contained £55 until he emptied it recently; another for the Save the Date Challenge, which he started in January and has saved him about £300-400 so far; and until recently he had a Rainy Day Pot.
“Micro saving adds up to a lot. By the end of the month there’s £200-300 that I’ve not even noticed, which can go towards a day out with my daughter or a holiday”
As an incentive to stay off the social media platform, Mark’s “Twitter saltiness tax” fines him 50p every time he tweets (the Pot currently contains £2); while his “fast food tax” puts £2 into a Pot every time he orders a takeaway. He’s saved about £100 since he set up the rule at the start of the pandemic.
“It’s micro saving that adds up to a lot,” says Mark. “By the end of the month there’s £200-300 that I’ve not even noticed, which can go towards a day out with my daughter or a holiday. It’s given me control of my spending but also allows me to stretch my money further to do the things I want to do.”
Mark estimates he lost £50k worth of work because of the pandemic
Mark found Monzo particularly useful during the pandemic when he couldn’t work for 18 months and had to dip into his savings. The government self-employment grant didn’t stretch far enough, he says. After the government announced the first lockdown, he lost £20k of future work in one week and estimates that he lost £50k worth of work in total because of the pandemic.
To make ends meet he wrote a book, which sold 300 copies at £15 each. He also delivered pizzas for £50 a night. “I had to make sure my child was provided for. Even if it allowed me to earn £200 a week, that enabled me to afford my weekly shop and the subscriptions we relied on during the pandemic.”
The experience gave him a newfound appreciation of the way he usually earns money through magic, which can make him around £500 for a few hours’ work. “I realised I’ve been lucky and I can’t be silly with money. I need to think about the future and what to do if this happens again.”
Alongside his current account, Mark also has a Monzo business account which puts 22% of every transaction into a tax Pot, meaning “I can just keep that to one side and not worry about it,” he says.
Right now, Mark is saving for a house deposit as he needs to leave his rented house in four months’ time. He’s using Monzo to get his savings up to £15k – he’s at £10k so far – for a 5% deposit by ensuring he doesn’t dip into his Pots. “They're all going to add up and give me another grand or so on the deposit, which is going to help me out loads.” He’s also diversified his income by taking on more acting work, such as TV bit parts, to help him reach the target.
The dream is a three-bedroom semi detached house in the Yorkshire Dales, where he grew up and still lives. “The views are lovely and my family are all around here, so it's important that I get a house around here. I need to save accordingly.”
“I'm not the cleverest of guys – I don't know about finance and I'm not an accountant – but I now understand my money better than ever”
Mark is optimistic that with Monzo’s help, he’ll get there soon. He feels more in control of his money than ever – even after the pandemic. “Since getting Monzo I know exactly how much money is in my account. I know my savings are fine. Whereas before, I’d spend and spend without knowing what I was spending and I had no idea what was in my account,” he recalls.
“Monzo really changed my relationship with money in a way that I understand. I'm not the cleverest of guys – I don't know about finance and I'm not an accountant – but I now understand my money better than ever and that in itself is worth everything.”