Martin Lewis - Cheshire's Money Saving Expert
PUBLISHED: 14:56 02 September 2014 | UPDATED: 14:56 02 September 2014
Want to save some cash? Martin Lewis is the ‘go-to’ expert...which is why this Cheshire lad was Britian’s most Googled man last year
Despite being worth tens of millions of pounds, Martin Lewis buys supermarket own-brand baked beans, goes to Poundland for cut-price crisps and happily uses a money-off voucher for a restaurant meal.
His thrift has proved infectious. MoneySavingExpert.com, launched by Martin at a cost of £100 in 2003, is now the UK’s biggest consumer website with 13 million users every month.
Last year he was the most Googled man in Britain. And little wonder, for his fascination with the minutiae of credit card balance transfers and tracker mortgages translates into cash in hand for those who rally to his banner of ‘adversarial consumerism’. He has so far saved the nation’s newly-stroppy consumers well in excess of £10billion.
Most of us knew 42-year-old Martin first from the GMTV breakfast sofa where he talked like a man who had had three or four cups of coffee too many. But his breathless spiel made perfect sense, particularly when it came to the subject of unfair bank charges. Martin’s template letters to help people make a complaint against their banks were downloaded in their millions.
Unafraid to ruffle the feathers of fellow celebrities, Martin was at the forefront of a campaign to persuade Carol Vorderman to stop doing adverts for secured loans.
Further campaigns about council tax overcharging, misselling of payment protection insurance and the advantages of switching energy provider brought people flocking to MoneySavingExpert.com.
By the time Martin sold the website to Moneysupermarket.com in 2012, it was worth £87m.
Some fans of the website were not happy about it being gobbled up by big business. But Martin did not sell out in the ethical sense. He continued as editor in chief, and the website retained its editorial independence. Over £10m of the proceeds of the sale went to a charity fund.
This extraordinary life began at Withington Hospital, Manchester, in 1972. The family moved from Didsbury to Norley on the edge of the Delamere Forest when Martin’s father Stuart got a job as headteacher of a special needs school.
Martin traces his money-saving nous back to the realisation that his pocket money went further if he bought sweets in bulk from the cash-and-carry with his dad. While at The King’s School, Chester, he got his first taste of the media as financial director of the Young Enterprise group, then took a gap year job at Harrington’s Caravans in Oakmere.
Hankering for city life, Martin headed to the London School of Economics, where he was president of the student union. Looking back on his Cheshire childhood, he said: ‘It’s wonderful when you are young to have trees and a village where you can walk the streets. Once you get a bit older you realise that the nearest shop is 20 minutes walk away, your school is 18 miles away and your nearest friend lives six miles away. It was beautiful coming from the country, but when I moved to London at 19 to come to university I saw big city lights and I loved them.’
After the LSE, Martin spent two years spin-doctoring for the financial industry before realising that he was ‘playing for the wrong team’, then studied broadcast journalism at Cardiff University.
Success, fortune, marriage to TV presenter Lara Lewington and fatherhood (they have a two-year-old daughter Sapphire) does not appear to have dimmed Martin’s hungry energy. One journalist who interviewed him months ago measured how quickly he spoke and found that at times it was 238 words per minute - twice the normal rate. He works long hours and has admitted to being made ill by stress in the past.
He is also ultra-competitive, logging the outcome of Scrabble matches against his wife in the form of a graph. In 2012, he was Celebrity Mastermind champion, and won £150,000 on Celebrity Millionaire, which went to CAB.
Last November, Martin’s campaigning was rewarded with an honorary doctorate in business administration from the University of Chester. In his speech to students, he said that he had taken the techniques he learned selling caravan awnings as a teenager in Cheshire, and reversed them to help consumers.
Typical of the Money Saving Expert, he also gave the assembled graduates a bit of cash advice: ‘Don’t repay student loans quicker than you need to.’
In the words of the Money Saving Expert
‘I am now very wealthy. I worry about how my children will cope with being so privileged. I plan to give them everything they need but not everything they want.’
‘If I’m thirsty and need a Diet Coke and I go into a shop and it’s £1.50 for the small bottle, I won’t buy it. I can afford to, but I won’t because that’s just wrong.’
‘Some people can hear a piece of music once and play it on the piano. I can look at the terms and conditions of a credit card and see how they work. It’s not as sexy but it’s useful.’
‘Debt isn’t bad. Bad debt is bad.’
‘I honestly believe that what I have here is the start of a movement. It’s huge, it’s growing, it’s about adversarial consumerism’
‘We are a nation educated INTO debt when we go to university, but never educated ABOUT debt.’