Money & Me: ‘Nothing gives me greater joy than a bargain'

British retail expert and business consultant Kate Hardcastle says a frugal upbringing helped her to be disciplined with money

Retail expert Kate Hardcastle says she is very balanced in terms of spending and saving. Photo: Antonie Robertson / The National
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Retail guru Kate Hardcastle divides her time between Dubai and Britain, where she appears on the TV show Eat, Shop, Save and owns the Insight With Passion (IWP) consultancy.

Originally from Huddersfield in northern England, Ms Hardcastle has been involved in turning around ailing retailers and shopping centres, creating consumer brands and consulting on business redevelopment, restructures and takeovers.

Ms Hardcastle, 45, launched sustainability platform Buy Smarter Buy Greener to encourage consumers and producers to make better choices, while her Rock ’n’ Roll Business podcast draws on her early years as a singer while working days as a management trainee.

She has three children.

Did money shape your early years?

The first lessons in life were about frugality because we didn’t have much. I remember getting a maths lesson around the supermarket, knowing to add up as we went because if you went over, it was going to be mortifying putting something back on the shelves.

My parents were charity workers, a vocation I’ve done nothing but admire.

In summer holidays, I would wake at 4am to join my dad to collect donated bread from bakery shops, we would then go delivering. We’d speak to homeless (people0 on the streets.

I was 11 or 12 and learnt a real understanding of finances and how everything’s on a wafer-thin divide between success and how life can change quickly. I was getting one of the best financial upbringings I could have had.

Were you keen to earn young?

One of my drivers was I wanted to give back, but I also wanted a job where I could enjoy life. I remember as I became more fashion conscious in my teens getting three part-time jobs and being proud that I had this ability to earn money and spend it the way I wanted.

At 13, I was working in a hairdressers for less than £1 (Dh4.5) an hour. I had to spend time I got as a break getting the hairdressers’ lunch.

The lady who ran the jacket potato shop took pity and said: “I’ll pay you £2 an hour.” So I doubled my wage and didn’t have to deal with people who weren’t nice to me.

I had rich conditioning in terms of part-time jobs. We’ve got a lot of young people trying to get on the career ladder — those life skills really help.

How did you learn to value cash?

When you get bigger roles, to start with, you get the fast cars and everything, you enjoy that. I’ve travelled the world, staying in superb hotels, showered on planes.

I went out on that initial “I’m earning a big salary and want to spend it” thing … it didn’t last long because it sat uncomfortably with me.

When you hit a point of maturity or become a parent, those frugal skills come back to you. Now I’m a much more balanced person.

Those early days taught me: “Don’t take anything for granted.” I don’t think it’s easy to not be looking for value. It doesn’t have to always be the cheapest, it just has to be the price that I’ve paid is the value I’ve received out of the item. I’m a value hunter through and through.

How did retail win over singing?

I was in several bands and was a backing vocalist. I grew up around entertainment greats, but things made me frustrated with the industry. It was lowly paid, a lot of sofa surfing, the contrast of a glamorous life in a beautiful dress for two hours and then 18 hours in vans, so I needed to get a proper job where I could get a degree and not have debt hanging over me.

I found a management trainee-type position in an interiors company … the catalyst to everything.

IWP was set up (in 2009) so I could be that independent voice about retail situations, be the voice of the consumer on TV (and) be a parent in control of my own destiny.

How do you view the UAE retail sector?

I know the way consumers are seeing things globally and it can’t just be about the physicality of retail any more, which it was around 2012-2013 when I was first coming here. You had world-class malls, and I was working with organisations delivering those realities every day.

Now, it is much more about the emotional connection. While there will always be that impressive retail physical offer in the UAE, the conversations are about how you develop authenticity ... and how you get the connectivity between online and offline to work effectively for your brands so the consumer feels there is a seamless experience.

What is your spending and savings outlook?

I want to enjoy life because we’re not here for long, make some memories. At the same time, nothing is going to give me greater joy than a bargain.

I’ve got family to look after, so I am very balanced in terms of spending and saving and it’s something I demonstrate to my kids. They’re going to have to learn to be frugal.

I’ve bought second-hand cars that served me and then sold for nearly as much as I bought them for. Even designer clothing for work that I buy second-hand — and was doing before it was fashionable from an environmental and financial perspective — and then sell on for a bit of a profit … I feel joy, not to any big amount, it’s just a lifestyle thing.

There’s nothing worse than driving a new car off the forecourt or unwrapping a new designer handbag, which in three months has lost half its residual value.

What big spend do you treasure?

Seeing Aretha Franklin around 2010 in New York Radio City Hall. We believed it was going to be one of her last gigs, a now-or-never moment.

I don’t think she played much after, so I was pleased. Flights were an absolute ridiculous amount, the hotel … I spent tens of thousands, but I wouldn’t change it, I saw a legend.

I was never comfortable when I was splashing the cash, trying to keep up with the Joneses, so I just don’t
Kate Hardcastle, retail expert and broadcaster

Do you have a current indulgence?

My biggest expense recently was an Airstream (caravan). She’s from Texas and housed a family of six for 20 years.

I’ve always been fascinated by them. She was £30,000, needs reconditioning, but is a safe investment because she’s rare (and) I knew the resale market.

How do you feel about money?

I’ve seen what money worries can do to people, seen it split families. That nauseous feeling you get, which I’ve had, when you don’t know how you’re going to pay the train fare that day … beans on toast for a month.

It’s about having enough to be comfortable and then doing the right thing with anything beyond that.

I’ve always supported charities and I’ll do that until I disappear. We helped 2,500 independent small businesses through Covid times for free.

Many organisations had to pull back on philanthropic efforts, we didn’t. We donate time back, 20 per cent of expertise.

How are you wise with money?

I’m on national TV talking about it, so I live by the rules that I try to help with. I use second-hand and the cyclical market a lot.

My children will keep growing and need clothing. I’m on eBay or some kind of resale site. I buy years in advance and put it in suitcases. Then we donate what’s good enough quality that they’ve worn.

I enjoy it because I know it’s doing the right thing and showing them a discipline. I was never comfortable when I was splashing the cash, trying to keep up with the Joneses, so I just don’t.

Did the pandemic impact your lifestyle?

Hugely in terms of travel, because I was on the road permanently (before it), I had four suitcases packed for all different weather I would be working in.

In terms of spending, like all families, we had to make sure that we didn’t. I was broadcasting pretty much every day from home … helping families through the supermarket crisis.

We were in a challenging position, but there were people who had no way out.

What is your retirement goal?

I’ve worked from age 18. I started saving towards pensions when I was 20. Therefore, I think I deserve an earlier retirement than the 67 suggested by the UK government.

I always want to be busy and doing something, but my aim was to probably have another good 10 to 15 years in the industry.

I know what I want my retirement to look like and it includes a beach.

Updated: June 10, 2022, 6:02 PM