Nine things I’ve learnt about personal finance in my time at Moneywise

17 December 2019

Edmund Greaves passes on a few tips he's picked up over the past two years 

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And so dear reader, the time has come for me to bid you farewell. This shall be my last column for Moneywise, as of January 2020 I will be embarking upon a new career. So I’ve reflected on all that I’ve learnt from the world of money in my two-and-a-half years. 

Be scrupulous in your research

It’s so easy to see a deal on an advertising board and take it at face value. But often the companies with the biggest marketing budgets aren’t the ones that will give you a good deal.

If you see a product that seems like a good idea, compare it. We are blessed with an array of comparison sites and financial publications that will dissect every deal. Use them.

Beware the 'introductory offer'

A product or service with a fancy introductory offer  should always be treated with a healthy dose of scepticism. If they are offering you something for free, be it cashback or a free gift, it is because you are worth a lot more to the company than whatever the free thing will cost them.

Take care juggling money

Overconfidence with how money works is not good. I learnt that the hard way with balance transfer credit cards. I tried to play balance-transfer pass the parcel, but instead of decreasing my debt it just fuelled my spending. I’ve since reined it in.

The government is well-meaning but often incompetent

I have written about too many well-intentioned government schemes, such as the state pension top up and Help to Save.

Such programmes can make a real difference to lives. But often they are poorly advertised, explained or executed, leading to low uptakes of what could otherwise be of significant relief to many.

Brexit isn’t everything

I’ve had the dubious honour of never having been a financial journalist in a time when there wasn’t Brexit on the horizon. I started at Moneywise in May 2017, after the EU Referendum.

But the nice thing about writing about personal finance is that it doesn’t really matter all that much (as long as the economy chugs along slowly).

The only noticeable place where I’ve seen an impact is the long list of government legislation and papers that have been canned, such as the long-term care white paper.

The sooner the whole issue is put to bed, the quicker we can all move on with our lives.

Financial companies can be dangerously shark-like

I’ve worked with financial companies that have done wonderful things for customers and witnessed other firms that have behaved with rapacious profiteering. The lesson is that you should never implicitly trust a company that provides you a service. Always be vigilant of rising prices, reduced rates and careless service and never give any loyalty away. After all, it’s just business.

Pensions are important

I love to talk about pensions to the extent of wonkishness. My friends do not. But no one seems to take pensions seriously enough.

The only other financial product that you are likely to have any kind of as long-term a relationship with compared to a pension is maybe a mortgage. And even then, you are likely to switch mortgages much more frequently. Pensions matter. Make sure you are putting enough in yours.

Average figures don’t matter

We report on the latest inflation and wages figures. But average figures can be unhelpful for understanding what an individual is experiencing. Inflation sometimes goes down, thanks to cheaper computer game prices or it can rise because children’s clothes are more expensive. This can make the average number extremely relative. What matters is what is in front of you and how you respond individually to that.

People hate inheritance tax

Finally, people really hate IHT. I mean, really hate it. And I agree that it is a shoddy tax. But then, I don’t really like any taxes and think life would be simpler if we only had income tax (or maybe land value tax, tee hee). But that’s just me.

Farewell all.