A 5 minute read
This title wasn’t my idea, but it isn’t too far off what I describe myself in my personal twitter ‘bio’ (add in a love of rugby and dogs and that’s pretty much me in a nutshell).
What is a woman like me then?
Mid-forties, living with the love of my life, no children, mid-career and looking forward to all the delights that my menopause will bring. Riding a bike was never initially a ‘cool’ thing for me to do, I just wanted to find a better way to commute to start off with. Now, it’s purely for fun; that means no rain or poor weather. On the other hand, having tattoos is most definitely because I think they’re cool but they’re also addictive and therapeutic!
If you’d met me 15 years ago, you would have been left with a very different impression from the ‘me’ you’d meet now. I was meek and had very limited control of my own finances then. For 10 years, my now ex-husband controlled everything, from our debt to our overall level of spending. I didn’t have a bank account in my own name and didn’t pay much attention to our joint account because I let him control it. He earned more than I, and decided our lifestyle would match our combined income, which thoroughly pulled the rug out from under my feet when we split.
When I got divorced, I was bereft. Not because I was alone, but he took the bottle opener with him! I joke, but I was genuinely shell-shocked; at 32 I had to learn to manage my own finances and figure out what my own future looked like rather than his vision of our future. And I went through a tough few years whilst I started to figure that out.
It's safe to say, I learnt many lessons which have shaped the person writing this.
What Lessons Did I Learn?
Setting a budget was vital; I needed to know my wages would stretch far enough each month. Being a proud spreadsheet geek, I recorded all my regular bills and estimated my other outgoings until I could refine them to a more accurate number. Thankfully, I don’t have to worry now but still budget to a degree by sending a regular, fixed amount to a joint account from which most bills are paid – it’s a lot easier to manage that way!
Keeping on top of the fixed rate mortgage deals made a big difference to my budget too. I need the security of knowing what my outgoings are, so borrowing at fixed rates is an absolute must for me. For a wannabe spreadsheet geek, comparing fixed mortgage rates, fees and charges when my particular deal was ‘wee buns’ (Norn Iron speak for ‘easy’).
Playing with a mortgage calculator spreadsheet is outright fun for me. Once I got to a point where I had some spare pennies left over each month, seeing how the mortgage balance and payments could reduce in the future with small, regular overpayments made me happy (sadly). I figured that whilst my mortgage interest was higher than any savings rate I could get at the time, I may as well reduce the overall debt I owed.
Shopping around for every insurance I needed made a big difference. Comparison websites worked well for me and one I used regularly saved my details, so the annual update became easier, especially since it reminded me to do the work rather than roll over to a much more expensive premium by accident.
Creating a rainy-day fund when you’re struggling is hard, but not as hard as not having a rainy-day fund. I had a few perfectly normal expenditures I didn’t see coming, like car and boiler problems, and they caused me much anxiety because I didn’t have any real savings to deal with them at the time. Regular saver accounts with my bank helped as I could include the payments to my savings accounts as part of my budget and not think about what I was setting aside.
Some banks offer a tool that sweeps any money over a certain amount into a savings account. I set this up years ago and it has worked well for me, as it’s a lazy way of setting aside what I don’t spend each month after my bills had gone.
Having some medium to longer-term savings would have been helpful. I feel behind on this, but for so long I was afraid to tie my money up in longer-term savings in case I needed it. Now, my challenge is that I have savings but I don’t know what to do with them. We’re currently in a high inflation, low interest rate world but what savings options are out there that can beat or just match inflation?
Credit cards have their place for me, when used carefully. I’m not afraid to use mine anymore, but nowadays it’s only used for specific spending and is set to automatically settle the balance in full each month. Doing this helps keep my credit rating up.
Making a Will and keeping my beneficiary details updated on my pensions/death in service lump sum benefits matters. I don’t have children but that doesn’t mean it’s not important for me to know I can make things easier for my family by planning ahead if I run out of skill (or luck) on my bike one day. I’m currently updating my Will but my beneficiaries on my various pensions are always kept up to date.
Pensions are hard! And I say this as a pensions professional. Most people might assume that I would have great pensions provision. Not so. I’m only human and I have struggled in the same way many others have. Most of my pension will come from defined contribution (DC) savings and I’m playing catch up but I’ve a long way to go. The tools available from some providers have helped me here; especially those that let me see how much difference additional savings makes or give me a goal to aim for.
I worry about what the future will look like. I have suffered with chronic pain for almost 12 years now but fear that it will get worse leaving me unable to work for as long as I need to. My need to be financially independent has driven my need to have a career, but that drive is slowing down as I realise that my mental/physical wellbeing is more important than being financially comfortable. I’m therefore making hay while the sun shines as I may not always be as lucky as I am now (that also includes thinking about my next tattoo or modification to the bike)!