If money gives you the “ick”, and you’d rather run for the hills than check your bank balance, then there’s a new book aimed squarely at you.
Personal finance expert Claer Barrett, a regular on ITV’s Lorraine, says her new book is intended “especially for people who would never, ever buy a book about money”.
What They Don’t Teach You About Money boils down knowledge that Barrett has gleaned across 20 years in journalism into simple and practical suggestions.
Its release comes at a time when many of us are looking for ways to make our money stretch further and work harder.
Perhaps unexpectedly for a book about finance, it’s injected with a good dose of humour. One chapter is titled: Sorting Your Financial Sh*t Out.
It is also a very honest read, in which Barrett reveals a few financial errors of judgment that she made as a younger adult, and what she learned from them.
“I was able to make mistakes as a teenager, as somebody in their early 20s, and they weren’t really of any great lasting consequence,” Barrett tells me.
“But nowadays, if you do make a financial mistake, particularly with getting into debt, when you’re younger, the consequences can hang around for a lot longer.
“I would say that possibly my biggest financial mistake, in my first proper job, was thinking, ‘I won’t sign up for the pension, because I probably won’t work here for long’. And then I was there for about seven years!”
We have auto-enrolment for workplace pensions now, which nudges people into taking action.
The book also provides an insight into where Barrett, who is consumer editor at the Financial Times and hosts the FT’s Money Clinic podcast, gained some of her own financial grounding, long before entering journalism.
She recounts how, although money was tight when she was growing up, she felt secure, knowing her parents were working together as a couple to budget.
“I was lucky in many ways that my parents had a big influence on me, in the sense that they tackled problems together. They didn’t avoid problems with money,” she says.
Reading Barrett’s book feels like having a chat with a supportive friend.
She reveals she’d like to help make financial knowledge “more accessible and less frightening and anxiety-inducing”, as worrying about money can be a barrier to engaging with it.
Barrett also highlights the strong need for financial education at school, university and in the workplace, detailing all the “financial puzzles” people are expected to solve, including childcare costs, energy bills and the recent pandemic support schemes.
One way that couples saving for retirement can shine a light onto their finances is to find out what their own “pension gap” within the relationship is, says Barrett. This may be particularly revealing if one person in the couple has taken on the bulk of childcare responsibilities and scaled back their paid work.
Barrett suggests: “Ask your partner how much money they have in their pension fund, and find out how much you’ve got in yours, then compare the two figures.
“By getting these conversations, and the numbers, out in the open, I think more couples are going to wake up and say, ‘Hang on a minute, this is a huge problem. What are our elected politicians proposing to do about this? How can this be right?’”
Barrett also highlights the powerful impact of consumer culture and firms’ huge marketing budgets.
She’s a big fan of the BBC’s Sort Your Life Out, which sees host Stacey Solomon and her team help people to have a life-changing declutter.
When Barrett watches it: “Being a finance person, I can’t help thinking, a quarter of the stuff in that warehouse, that’s money that could have gone into a pension. That’s money that could have been saved or invested.”
She admits that she can find stores’ discounts tempting.
Weighing up the short-term boost from buying something now against longer-term goals can sometimes be helpful, at times when the urge to splurge is strong.
Barrett suggests asking yourself: “Are those bargains really a bargain?
“Or actually, could you be using your money more strategically, like a tool, rather than something that’s just there to be spent?”
Avoidance, such as putting off financial decisions or leaving bank statements unopened, can also be a barrier to dealing with money.
Barrett sets aside a “golden hour” on Sunday mornings, to keep on top of financial admin.
While times are tough right now, Barrett believes one rather “tarnished” silver lining emerging is a growing appetite to find out more about money.
“Money is now the number one topic of conversation in homes across Britain.
“It’s for the wrong reasons, because we haven’t got enough of it, but it is starting to break the taboo about talking about money.”
She feels people are becoming more willing to ask for help and look for content online.
But, in a world where chatbots are becoming more prevalent, it isn’t always easy to speak to a human.
“That’s where I hope the book can help people, to regain some confidence, by giving them a no-nonsense primer in the basics, with a few laughs thrown in,” says Barrett.
What They Don’t Teach You About Money is published by Penguin, priced £10.99. Available now.