JASMINE BIRTLES: The money mistakes I've made so you don't have to

26 May 2020

Back in the naughty Noughties, when I was the ‘Little Book’ queen, churning out collections of jokes, one of my bestsellers was The Little Book of Excuses


It was full of ‘excuses’ you could use in any situation, like being late or being bad at your job. It included lines like “Sorry I’m late, but I’ve been searching for the hero inside myself”; “I was going to write but they won’t let us have anything sharp in here”; and “I’d like to help and I would if it weren’t for this damned laziness”.

I thought of some of these lines this week when I had to admit on an online workshop that my listeners needed to “do what I say, not what I’ve done” when it comes to money and business.

As I explained to them, I’ve made the mistakes so that they don’t have to. And boy, when it comes to money, have I made the mistakes!

Here are just a few of them, together with an excuse to fit (I knew that book would come in handy one day).

Don’t get into debt

Now you see, falling into debt was what got me into the world of personal finance in the first place, so maybe it wasn’t such a mistake? Maybe?

Back in the murky late-1990s I found myself in £10,000 worth of debt. I’d like to say that it was the first time I’d been in some nasty debt, but it wasn’t. It was a wake-up call, though.

For 12 months I worked seven days a week when possible, sold everything I could find and bought no new clothes apart from two items from Oxfam until I paid the lot off. Handily, at the same time I started working for the BBC Business Unit, found out quickly how to make money instead of losing it, and the rest is history.

My relevant excuse? “I’ve never been that good with figures, but hey – how hard can accountancy be?”

Read the terms and conditions

You’re kidding right? Have you seen the length and complexity of most Ts and Cs documents? Admittedly, I have been known to scan an insurance document occasionally, but usually I just stick to the précis they send together with the 45 pages of small print. My excuse if I’m found out not taking notice of the latest set of ‘Tease and Seize’ documents  – I’m not asleep. I just hear better with my eyes closed.

Prepare a business plan

Every time I talk about setting up a business I say that you have to plan first. As they say, if you fail to plan you plan to fail.

So did I do a plan when I set up MoneyMagpie.com? Did I heck! And yes, that was a problem. Honestly I think it added years of barely surviving as a business before making any sort of sensible profit.

In fact I could (and one day might) write a book about all the mistakes I’ve made with this business. But, 10 years on, we’re still standing, growing and making a profit, so they can’t have been too terrible.

My excuse? “I’m donating my brain to science and I don’t want it to be too worn by the time they get it.”

Pay off your mortgage in double-quick time

Actually this one I did do. Again, back in the Noughties (when borrowing was not cheap, so there was more incentive), I was reporting on the benefits of paying off your mortgage early and suddenly pound signs appeared in my eyes. I realised that if I paid off my mortgage early, not only would I save money but, as a freelancer, I could be choosier about what work I did. I reduced the term of my mortgage, worked weekends and put in any extra cash I made, and paid it off in nine years. Go me!

No excuses needed for that one, at least.

But if you do make mistakes like I have, or worse, don’t worry. One thing I have worked out over time is that money is a lot more fluid than we all realise.

The value of things goes up and down and all sorts of opportunities and even financial support can appear out of nowhere.

We tell each other (rightly) that we need to set a lot of money aside to keep ourselves going later on, but actually, if you have given out a lot of love through your life, you’re likely to have people who want to support you more at that time… and that’s much cheaper.

It’s not the mistakes that matter, it’s what we learn from them and how we grow out of them that counts. At least that’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it!