Why making investments is very like doing the garden
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More than two decades have slipped by since my wife, daughter and I lived in the village of Woodcroft, a tiny settlement of houses and farmland a few miles north of Chepstow.
The Wye Valley's breath-taking beauty, coupled with the walking opportunities afforded by Offa's Dyke, lured us from the city to a house which, with hindsight, required significantly more money spent on it than we had at the time.
Still, it was only a couple of hundred yards from our front door to the spectacular Wye gorge, while the rear of the house overlooked the river Severn, so we were prepared to put up with a painfully slow refurbishment in return for a beautiful setting. After all, we had the garden.
'Garden' understates the amount of land that came with the house. It extended to the front and side, creating a sizeable L-shaped space replete with apple trees, strawberry runners, a plum tree and our very own cesspit.
As spring arrived, we bought a decent lawn mower and strimmer, bursting with ideas for repairing the lengthy dry-stone wall, erecting a swing, planting more flowers, cultivating strawberries and keeping the grass at a manageable height.
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Problems arose only when it rained because it made cutting the grass notoriously difficult. This, as you can imagine, happened frequently. Indeed, over the years, the prospect of 'doing the garden' gradually became a miserable chore, not least because it could take all weekend, even assuming the weather was kind.
We never left Woodcroft because of the garden, but I wasn't unhappy when we eventually moved back to the city and a townhouse where the outside space amounted to little more than a large, elevated patio. Following another move two years ago, we've compromised and have a much more manageable space. It takes no more than an hour to cut the grass and, importantly, we get to enjoy it as a result.
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In many respects, the comparison between gardening and investing is an obvious one.
Investing can appear daunting, especially if you're a novice. Where do you start? Do you have the right kit, aptitude and motivation to get cracking? And what's your attitude towards risk? The list of questions can grow faster than a rain-fed lawn and by the time you've addressed them, more have been added.
Meanwhile, though you may harbour longer-term investment plans, frustration sets in when you cannot get off first base. Time is lost; frustration mounts.
So where to begin?
First, the investment process is nowhere near as daunting as some folks would have you believe.
Yes, you're investing real money – your hard-earned – but fortunately, there are plenty of people, websites and reading material to assist.
Establishing your plans for, say, the next five or ten years, is a good place to begin.
Granted, they may mix absolute targets (save enough for a deposit on a house) with those that appear a little vague, but take heart: everyone does exactly the same.
It's true that discussing investment ambitions and targets with a financial adviser can help investors achieve their objectives. Good advisers will begin by emphasising the importance of creating a portfolio which gives you the optimum chance of achieving your investment ambitions, taking account of your attitude towards risk.
Professional advisers will also explain the benefits of diversification, asset allocation, the over-riding need to avoid fads, the merits of investing in an actively managed or tracker fund, the difference between UK and international shares, the benefits of investing for growth or income and a host of other matters besides.
While this may all sound a little daunting, getting good advice before you start can prove enormously fruitful over the longer-term.
That's what life in Woodcroft taught me: when you need to tackle a garden, speak with a gardener.
It was the first thing I did when we moved to our current home – he visits weekly during the summer, an arrangement which allows me to enjoy it rather than considering it a chore.
The Week In Numbers
The world's most famous horse race took place on Saturday. Here's some related numbers:
The 1929 Grand National featured the most starters: a staggering 66 horses lined up for the 'off'. The smallest field was in 1883 - just 10 horses trotted down to the start.
Won by Tipperary Tim, a 100/1 outsider, the 1928 race is famed for being the one with fewest finishers. Only one other horse lasted the course. The highest number of finishers was 23 in 1984 when Hallo Dandy won.
The fastest-ever time in which a horse won the National. This remarkable feat was completed by Mr Frisk en route to victory in 1990. The slowest time was recorded in 1839 when Lottery took 14 mins 53 secs to reach the finishing post.
In addition to horse racing, Aintree has also hosted a total of six grand prix: one European and five British versions. Stirling Moss won his first Grand Prix in Liverpool in 1955.
Number of Grand Nationals in which Manifesto ran, still a record. He competed in eight races between 1895 and 1904, winning two and coming third on three occasions. He only failed to finish once.
Bruce Hobbs is the youngest jockey to have won the race. The 17-year-old triumphed aboard Battleship in 1938. The late Dick Saunders is the oldest winner of the Grand National, partnering Grittar to victory in 1982. Saunders was 48.
Peter Sharkey read economics at the University of Bristol. He worked as an accountant on three continents and has been a company director and investor for more than 30 years, building and selling three different companies.