Understanding personal finance can actually make you richer, says our new columnist Peter Sharkey
PUBLISHED: 16:04 17 July 2017 | UPDATED: 16:41 24 July 2017
How do you launch a new personal finance column? What particular combination of words should you use to grab readers' attention and convince them that what they're about to read over the coming months is so compelling it has the power to change their lives?
Composer Oscar Hammerstein (Oklahoma, South Pacific, The Sound of Music) said that provided you had a great opening number, the audience would stay with you, even if they spent the rest of the show reading the phone book. However, though a musical’s introductory song is essential for kicking things off on the right foot, we’re not, unfortunately, in a position to belt out modified lyrics to Village People’s YMCA with L.I.S.A.** or Straight To The Bank (Of Mum and Dad) by 50 cent to herald the arrival of our fresh new column.
In an attempt to unearth the written equivalent of an attention-grabbing opener, therefore, I examined a handful of pocket-sized Lonely Planet travel guides, ostensibly because they tend to use imaginative one-liners in order to hook readers ‘early doors’. Here’s a few examples:
“Compact Copenhagen is the epitome of Scandi cool…”
“Berlin is a bon vivant, passionately feasting on the smorgasbord of life…”
“No city on earth is more alive than Madrid…”
All perfectly accurate statements, but it would be pushing things to call personal finance ‘cool’, or suggest that understanding pension contributions will transform you into a bon vivant. Perhaps a description of the dependency ratio will make you feel as vibrant as Madrid? Let’s move on, shall we.
The introduction to Andrew Marr’s History of the World offers more fertile ground.
“Writing a history of the world is a ridiculous thing to do [because] the amount of information is too vast for any individual to absorb…” he says.
That’s more like it. Honesty.
They may not be the all-singing, all-dancing debut lines I originally had in mind, but the broadcaster’s words seem appropriate to personal finance. It too is an enormous subject which, like world history, is virtually impossible to explain in full.
Marr justifies his Herculean efforts by saying: “The only case for doing it, and for reading it, is that not having a sense of world history is even more ridiculous.”
And so it is with personal finance.
Irrespective of age or position on life’s occasionally tempestuous financial voyage, it’s a subject in which everyone should take an interest. Why? Because the knock-on effects of government legislation, of policies decided upon by lenders, of our attempts to save for a mortgage, or to salt money away for retirement impact upon us in different ways at different times in our lives.
People who tend to ignore their personal finances put themselves at a disadvantage and can find it difficult to save, invest, get on the property ladder or dangerously short of money in retirement.
This column is meant to be a guide, to offer suggestions, but its underlying belief is that if you want something doing, you have a responsibility to start the ball rolling yourself.
This could be a simple commitment to save £50 a month, reduce your mortgage costs, open a lifetime ISA, or start a personal pension. Personal finance might be an enormous subject, but there are numerous ways in which anyone prepared to make the effort can benefit from taking those first steps.
Many readers will be thinking, ‘I want to do something similar. Where do I start?’
Aside from reading as much as you can regarding a particular personal finance topic, do not forget the experience and advice offered by financial advisers. Some may appear a little remote, but their overwhelming number are professional folks who pride themselves on providing solutions to financial quandaries or planning an individual’s financial future.
Numbers, as we can see from the selection below, can be fun or serious. Crucially, understanding those associated with personal finance can actually make you richer – not a claim even Andrew Marr can boast, but it’s true. See you next week, by which time I hope ‘YMCA’ has stopped going around in my head.
THE WEEK IN NUMBERS
614 - Pages in Andrew Marr’s History of the World (see opposite).
55m - Cups of coffee consumed in the UK every day.
7th - Season of Game of Thrones starts on Sky Atlantic on 17th July. The eighth and final season will be screened in 2019.
28% - Fall in the number of 17-year-olds taking their driving test since 2007-08. The number of over-25’s has fallen by 20% during the past decade.
£2.5m - Cost of the newly-released Bugatti Chiron. Top speed? 261 mph.
2075 - Year in which artificial intelligence could take over the world. According to Cambridge University, the risk of this happening is ‘very high’. Gulp.
11 - Cities pitching to be City of Culture in 2021. Current favourites to make December’s shortlist are Coventry, Stoke and Swansea.
4:44 - Title of Jay-Z’s new album. Described as “…the sound of a man looking deep into his soul.”
5,965 - Number of copies Charlotte Crosby’s autobiography (CBB, Geordie Shore) sold last week following publication.
151% - Percentage increase in sales (to £46.7 million) made over past year by online estate agent Purplebricks.