Yom Kippur is always a big deal for money-saving guru Martin Lewis, but this year it will be even more so. While he is at synagogue, fasting and generally attempting to ignore the outside world, his new prime-time show will be debuting on ITV.
This will mean an anxious 25 hours for the hugely influential founder of the website, moneysavingexpert.com and longstanding JC columnist. “It is Kol Nidre so I will not be watching television. I will also be unable to tweet, unable to go on Facebook or respond to any questions. I don’t turn my computer on during Yom Kippur so it could hardly be worse timing,” he says.
So instead of helping people to save money, Lewis will be saving on calories and waiting to log back on when the fast goes out to see how the programme has been received — a tough ask for a self-confessed control freak.
If The Martin Lewis Money Show has anything like the impact of Lewis’s website and his previous ITV appearances on This Morning, he should be able to relax. The secret of his success seems to be that he is able to give the public information that they need. He puts it quite simply: “If I said I’ll give you £1,000 you’d be interested, wouldn’t you? Well, if I sat down with you for an hour and told you how you could save yourself £1,000, why would that be any less interesting?”
He plans to “get people off their backsides so that they can save as much cash as possible”. He thinks that nearly everyone has the capacity to make savings, from a few hundreds up to hundreds of thousands depending on their circumstances.
If Lewis is anxious about the how the show will be received, he certainly need not worry about his financial future. He recently sold moneysavingexpert.com, the website he created for £100 nine years ago, for a sum reportedly in excess of £80 million. He considers himself incredibly lucky, not just because he has earned a sum which makes most lottery payouts look paltry, but mainly because he makes money at what he loves doing and has in essence invented his own job.
Born in Manchester in 1972, he read government and law at the London School of Economics before becoming a postgraduate student in broadcast journalist. He was taken on by the BBC to work in its business unit and later moved to the now-defunct satellite channel, Simply Money, where the idea of saving money took root.
“I was promoted a few times and eventually offered my own small show. This was the moment that I came up with the idea of money saving. It was basically an idea that no one had ever done before — investigative journalism and analytical research on consumer finance. I thought it was a brilliant idea. My bosses said, ‘whatever’, but I did it and within six months I had become the mainstay of this little channel that no one was watching.”
Unsurprsingly, the channel soon closed, but Lewis was given a Daily Express column and got his big break in a one-off appearance on This Morning. He has not looked back since.
Now, he employs more than 40 staff at the website which will soon be taken over by the MoneySupermarket.com. Lewis is now 40 and married to Channel Five weather presenter and former JC showbusiness writer Lara Lewington. The couple are looking forward to the birth of their first child in November. “I’m selling up now while I’m still enjoying it,” Lewis says. “I love my work but I can’t be doing this for the next 20 years, I just can’t keep the hours up. Anyway, the website is about far more than me and has a future beyond me, and the only way that is going to happen is for me not to own it because I am such a control freak. “
He might be selling but he is adamant that he is not selling out. “There are strict conditions. Editorially it must remain as it is now which is solely to help consumers. It will never be ramped up to make money. There is a legally binding contract which if broken will lead to millions of pounds of fines. They would be bonkers to change it anyway. If you do something wrong on the web, people just leave.”
While Lewis’s Judaism is clearly very important to him, he is keen that his work should not be confused with his religion. “I’m properly Jewish. I go to shul. But this has nothing to do with my work. I’m a money-saving expert who is Jewish. I’m not a money-saving expert because I’m Jewish. I think it is a damaging and dangerous stereotype. Not all Jews are good with money.”
Although he has made his own fortune through finance, he sees himself not as a money man but a campaigning journalist and a politician “with a small p”.
He explains: “This is all about consumer empowerment. I find it quite hard not to be moved when people’s lives are damaged either because they are being ripped off or because they have ripped themselves off with apathy, ignorance or inertia.”
His values developed, he says, as a boy. His father was headmaster at the Jewish special-needs school, Delamere Forest, in Manchester, and the school inspired him. “I realised at the age of 15 that to have a mind that functioned well without an incapacity was a blessing. Some kids took five years to learn how to tie their shoelaces. That was a greater achievement for them than me climbing Everest. You realise that being fortunate comes with an obligation.
“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. I guarantee that The Black Eyed Peas will not be playing at their bar- or batmitzvah. I also look at my role in the community. The amount of charity we have given away is bigger than the percentage required in tzedakah.”
The one thing he does not plan to do, however, is give any of that hard-earned money away unnecessarily.
“We try to downshift. I happily have savers’ brand baked beans because I can’t tell the difference. Lara loves Waitrose and that’s fine if we have a voucher, but if we don’t, then we’ll go somewhere else.”
He adds with a chuckle: “The only thing you can’t save on is kosher meat.”