I wonder what’s inside

Christmas is under two weeks away as I write. And I have never been as unprepared at this stage in the game as I am now. Maybe it’s because the “children” are no longer children. Maybe it’s because the nearly-there, nearly-there, nearly-there, back-to-the-beginning-again tease of that pesky virus with mutant tendencies is making me think that no plans will ever come to pass again. Or maybe it’s because, well into my fifties, I am finding it increasingly hard to get worked up about making bread sauce.

Playing it safe with your own presents

Don’t get me wrong, I love the festive season. Just maybe not as much as I did when it merely ‘happened’ – as opposed to being the one who makes it happen now. When it comes to presents, I know many women who purchase something they like in the run-up to Christmas and hand it over to an appropriate gift-giver to wrap up and present back to them on The Morn. I get that. There is some appeal in playing it safe so as to avoid disappointment, arguments or trips back to the shops (sorry, how old-fashioned of me. I mean trips back to the local collection point).

The excitement of a surprise

As I say, I get it. Nonetheless, it so isn’t me (“What? I buy the presents for everyone else and I have to get my own as well?!”). Despite the barely-disguised jaded-ness in the above paragraphs, I do still want the excitement of a wrapped-up surprise.

Leaving it wrapped up in its simplicity…

There’s a mystery to anything that is wrapped up – and an even-handedness that appeals to those of us who like a level playing field. While a gift is wrapped in paper, it remains just that – a gift. And it won’t be called anything but a gift until it is opened. Only then will it become the thing inside, with all sorts of judgements attached: is it nice, do I like it, does it do the job well enough, was it costly or good value, did a lot of thought go into it or was it plucked carelessly with a slide of a mouse and tossed into a virtual basket with a quick clickety-click? Sometimes it is tempting to leave it wrapped up in all its simplicity and leave the prospect of complicated thoughts and emotions firmly on the outside.

…In case it becomes more complicated

Which is exactly why, I think, many people refer to their pension or their ISA by the ‘wrapper’ name and resist looking inside in case it becomes more complicated. (Yes, I really did make that link. Sorry). People will say that their pension is “doing well”, or that the ISA has been “disappointing” and what they mean is that the investments inside them have performed in a certain way – investments that can be picked and chosen and changed either by the individual themselves or a professional investment manager to give the best chance of the right sort of returns for the amount for risk that you want to take.

Wrapped in the same coloured paper

The only point of the wrapper (regardless of what the investments choices are inside) is to tell the Tax Person that the investments inside are to be taxed according to the correct rules. So investments inside a pension are taxed according to pension rules. And investments inside a Stocks & Shares ISA are taxed according to ISA rules. If I may reinvoke Christmas for a moment – everything that is wrapped up in paper from the same roll gets taxed in the same way, but what is inside can be very different: in other words, my pension is not the same as yours.

Do you know what’s inside?

With that in mind, your pension is not the same as your partner’s. Nor is your ISA.  If you were to take a good look under your household’s financial tree you might just find some wrapped-up products that have your partner’s name on them. To those of you who are in any kind of committed relationship that you intend to last into retirement and to the end of time, I ask this: do you know what’s inside?

Why does it matter?

We ran a news article on this last month based on a survey that suggested that 78% of married people have no idea what their spouse’s pension is even worth – let alone how the investments inside are arranged. (If you’ve got a spare five minutes in between door-to-door carolling and woodland wreath making, this link will take you there: How much does your partner have in their pension?). So, why does this matter?

Keeping gifts under the tree

As I’m fond of telling the young women who are polite enough to listen to what I’ve got to say on the matter, if you make the very big and grown-up decision to share your life, your sofa, taking the bins out and – potentially – children, surely you would also share the money.  In an ideal world, you are a team and, while you might each have personal aims within that team, you are also both working towards the common goal of keeping the lights burning, food on the table and gifts under the tree at Christmas (or whichever celebration is traditional for you).

Children: no small ask

Further to that, if you have made a family together, one of you will likely have forfeited some earnings and pension along the way in pursuit of the additional goal of ‘keeping the children alive’. No small ask.

No surprises, please

So, does it matter what’s inside your partner’s pension? Ho ho hell, yeah. For both of you. You both need to know what’s coming so you can plan for it. “Oh, surprise me!” might be okay at Christmas (for some of us, anyway) – but surely not at Retirement. Even a good surprise at that point might feel like a betrayal (“What? So I sent the children up the chimney until they turned 30 while all along you were sitting on a mountain of pension value?”)

Money is not a plan in itself

Money, like energy and time, is a resource. When it is in reasonable supply, it facilitates your plans. And when it is in short supply, it derails your plans. But it is not a plan in itself. So, I encourage you all, with as much Christmas spirit as you can muster, to grub around in the wrapped-up items in your lives and lay them bare. Working out the current value of everything you have that will contribute to your later lives is a great starting point.

Is what’s inside right for you?

And then, much as you would with anything else wrapped up, you need to take the wrapper off your collective pensions or ISAs and work out if what’s inside is right for you – that is, your feelings about investment risk, where you are in your lives and what your values are. You can always talk to a friendly financial adviser if the idea of doing this yourself is daunting, but the concept won’t be alien to you: if you don’t like what’s inside the wrapper, you can always change it.

And on that note, I bid you all Happy Unwrapping. Bread sauce anyone?



Talking Finances is a trading name of Talking Finances Ltd. Talking Finances Ltd is an appointed representative of Beaufort Financial Planning Limited, Kingsgate, 62 High Street, Redhill, Surrey, RH1 1SH, which is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, FCA Registration No. 583233

This article represents the personal opinion of Carole Haswell only and does not represent any opinion of Beaufort Financial Planning Limited. Financial decisions should not be made on the basis of this article

COP a load of that

Cheering over spilt milk

Back in the early-1990s I worked for an organisation that had a huge pool of money invested in shares in UK companies. Part of my job was to visit these companies and assess whether or not we should continue to invest in them. On one such visit to a dairy company, which bottles and distributes milk around the country, I sat in a room with about 35 men and one other woman to listen to the Chief Executive tell us how the company managed to keep its profits growing. I remember only one point that he made, which was that, thanks to the recently adopted use-by dates for products that might go off, “housewives” (I kid you not) were throwing perfectly good milk down the drain on a regular basis and so buying more milk than they needed. This in turn was bolstering the profits of said milk producer. Cheers all round.

Profit at any cost

I do remember catching a glance from the other woman in the room and us both indulging in a teeny-weeny eye roll at the derisory tone with which he said the word “housewives”. And I like to think that I was vaguely uncomfortable with the idea that throwing good milk away was meant to be applauded. But I can’t be sure on that last point. After all, this was getting on for thirty years ago and I’m pretty sure that the City had little time for thinking of investing as anything other than a purely financial arrangement. The man of the moment certainly had no qualms about openly presenting his company as one that had ‘profit at any cost’ on its mind. And with that message firmly embedded, we all donned our white coats and hair nets and trotted around the facilities cooing at the shiny bottling machinery.

No planet to graze on

Even if I can’t be certain of my own ‘sustainable’ credentials at that point, I am pretty sure that if I were in that room today I’d call him out. Not just on the ‘housewives’ thing (although that still rankles) but – much more importantly – on the complete lack of social responsibility around food waste. And, of course, it isn’t just about the waste in our kitchens. Excessive dairy farming comes with a host of other potential areas of concern, not least of which using land to grow food to give to methane-emitting cows which, if the worst of the climate change predictions come to pass, won’t have a planet – let alone a pasture – to graze on.

Oh, how things have changed

Where am I going with this? Certainly, as a dyed-in-the-wool full-fat-dairy-milk cappucino addict (if one a day equals an addiction), I don’t imagine that I can save the planet single-handedly by cutting out milk from my diet. But I do want to point out how much things have changed. Imagine someone today standing up and celebrating the fact that people throw their food product away. It would be like a social media company bragging about how it drives traffic on its site by pushing negative and mentally-disturbing content at teenagers…

Are you decent?

Consumers and investors increasingly want to know that a company is decent. That it understands that, in order to thrive in the society to which it is selling its goods and services, it has to show respect. And governments and regulators are piling on pressure as well – there are growing expectations that a company will publish independently-checked, non-financial information about itself (ie about things that are not just to do with its profits), such as how much CO2 it generates, what it does with its waste materials, how it replaces lost bio-diversity and what it is doing to ensure that its workforce and suppliers are paid fairly and are safe and looked after. And, beyond that, the next step is for a company to take responsibility for the effects that its products have after they have sold them – for example how it aims to clear up after itself, by collecting single-use plastic drink bottles, offering repair services, taking back old products for re-use of the parts or engaging with the communities who have to live with the way it chooses to run its operations.

Meat-free Monday isn’t cutting it

Interest in the inter-connected relationships between money, businesses, society and the planet is hotting up. I think that is why there is so much information coming at us in the media about the impending COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow. In the run-up, headlines have been dominated by report after report that the effects of climate change will be catastrophic if we don’t act faster and more drastically than we have to date. There is a sense that we can no longer address this problem by drinking through metal, re-usable straws and having meat-free Mondays. The fact that the media is able to maintain this level of reporting in itself shows that the public has become more engaged. To misappropriate Greta’s phrase, climate change is no longer being lost in the “blah blah blah” of news stories.

The power in your pension

I have just signed up for notifications on the BBC app around the COP26 summit. I’ve never signed up for a notification of anything before. But I have a sense that I want to hear this news. Rightly or wrongly (only time will tell), I have convinced myself that investment – in infrastructure, in new technologies and production methods, in poorer countries that are behind the curve and in people who want to make the world better and fairer and, let’s face it, viable for the future – is the best way forward. There was a statistic doing the rounds a few weeks ago that, changing the investments to ones that are focused on sustainability in your pension would be 27 times more effective in reducing your carbon footprint than not flying and becoming a vegan combined.* I can’t hold that one to account, but my instincts are that money could be the answer to the problems that money has created. And given that there are £2tn invested in UK pensions, that could pack quite a punch.

A conflict of duty

Yet, as a Financial Planner I find myself a bit conflicted. Always, the first duty is to the client’s best interests and to recommend investments that are suitable to their circumstances and – to the extent that they are not contradictory – to their wishes. I’ve been quite clear that if a client is not interested in investing responsibly or sustainably then it is not my job to persuade them otherwise. My job is to inform myself about what is on offer so as to choose what is appropriate. But, increasingly, I am finding that there’s a limit to the number of ways you can phrase the question: “Do you want to invest in companies that are taking seriously the risks to planet and society – and to their future profits – or in companies that don’t?”  Interestingly, the FCA, the financial regulator, is looking at the role financial advisers are going to play in this sphere, and I am curious to see how far any new rules will go.

Bottom-of-the-fridge soup, anyone?

Meanwhile, I shall prepare myself for a lot of climate-related news hurtling downstream as the delegates gather in Glasgow. There will doubtless be stories about how they got there, what food they are eating, whether they are drinking from plastic bottles and how many of them have recently replaced their gas-fired boilers. I’m prepared to bet that there won’t be much coverage of whether their pensions are invested sustainably or not but until we know that for sure I’m going to stare into my fridge to see if there is anything lurking in the bottom that I can make a soup out of. Not because that will change the world. But because it won’t do any harm.

*Make My Money Matter campaign – backed by Richard Curtis of Four Weddings, Notting Hill and Bridgit Jones (among others) screenwriting and producing fame



Talking Finances is a trading name of Talking Finances Ltd. Talking Finances Ltd is an appointed representative of Beaufort Financial Planning Limited, Kingsgate, 62 High Street, Redhill, Surrey, RH1 1SH, which is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, FCA Registration No. 583233

This article represents the personal opinion of Carole Haswell only and does not represent any opinion of Beaufort Financial Planning Limited. Financial decisions should not be made on the basis of this article

A bit more understanding

If you’re interested in this, I can thoroughly recommend a viewing of the Kurzgesagt video on Climate Change (found on YouTube). It’s largely science based and makes it clear when it is offering an opinion rather than a fact.

Setting your savings on FIRE

Free by the age of 40

On one of a number of car journeys this summer in search of the ‘why would anyone go abroad when there’s so much in the UK?’ vibe, we caught a snippet of a radio interview with a 30-year-old woman who was on FIRE. If this conjures images of combustible man-made fibres and hair-singeing, think again. This was a woman who was planning her life around Financial Independence, Retire Early and reckoned she would be free from the need to be earning by the time she was 40.

Social media, apps and calculators fan the flames

A very cursory flick through the results thrown up by my friendly search engine revealed that the idea of saving big, spending small and jacking it all in before incontinence takes a hold is something that has been smouldering for nearly thirty years in the US. More recently, its flames have been fanned by the oxygen of social media coupled with the emergence of apps and calculators that are calling it ‘a thing’ (enough with the fire references now, I think).

The same old maths principles…

At the nub of the FIRE principle is an old chestnut that we were all taught in school – and one that I have banged on about in previous blog posts: the magic of compound interest. The more you save and the earlier you start, the bigger the pot. This is because a) you’ve put more in and b) over time, you can get more growth on the growth. The maths principles are no different for FIRE than for any other retirement saving strategy – such as making regular payments into your pension from the start of your working life and investing for growth to match or exceed inflation (this will involve a degree of investment risk as interest on a savings account won’t be enough to protect from the effects of inflation over time).

…But a mental shift

However, the big difference is the mental shift required to be putting enough of your earnings away to make the whole FIRE thing work. Part of the FIRE principle is to pare back all frivolous spending, keeping an eye all the time on the prize of building your savings to the point where they are generating enough annual growth that you can live off this growth and stop working. In other words, valuing your future life more highly than your present-day life and making sacrifices in the here and now to fund the dream.

You have to save how much?!

Most of us who are not FIREd up to do this might have an arrangement where a small percentage of our wages effortlessly makes its way into a workplace pension each month. When you are following a FIRE regime, however, you are required to be saving… wait for it… over 50% of your earnings – maybe even as much as 70%!

An average wage won’t work

Wow. How many of us can say that, in our twenties, after rent/mortgage, bills, food and transport costs we had anything like 50% of our salary left over for ‘savings and investments’? Clearly, if you are on an average wage you are unlikely to be able to retire after just 10 years of investing all your disposable income (everything that is left after the essential spending). The pot simply wouldn’t be big enough.

And whilst it’s true that the speaker was, herself, a woman, let’s remember that, on average, women’s pension savings still lag those of their male counterparts. For example, according to research carried out by Scottish Widows*, a woman on an average salary saving adequately (considered to be at least 12% of income) is saving about £2,300 a year compared to the average man saving more than £3,600. As a reality check, the woman on the radio was saving something like £50,000 a year!


Part of me applauds it…

Nonetheless, the idea of saving far more than you’re used to (and spending far less) is an interesting one. And I’m not sure what I think about it. Part of me applauds the idea of not wasting money on unnecessary purchases and being frugal and sensible with your personal resources – and I have on more than one occasion written about the merits of squirrelling away some extra savings/pension contributions whenever possible.

…The other part is horrified

But the other part is horrified at the extreme-ness of it all. Maybe it’s a British thing. Or maybe it’s a woman-in-her-fifties thing, but the notion of ‘moderation’ cuts both ways to my mind. Not just because ‘extreme saving’ has the ring of something innately dangerous about it but also because, you know what, life doesn’t go in a straight line. What if you get pregnant? What if you need to help a family member? What if you burn yourself out trying to reach your FIRE goal? (sorry, I did say I’d stop those references…)

A useful guide

Many of the tools that are available online for this sort of target-based investing are really useful as guides for how much you need if you are going to have a long period in your life when you live off your investments (otherwise known as retirement). Indeed, making these kinds of calculations is the bread-and-butter stuff of Financial Planning – but always served as a side-dish to the lifetime plans, not just as a plate of numbers.

Caution against playing an extreme numbers game

I think what I’m trying to say is that it is undoubtedly a sensible and rewarding goal to save a bit more as early on as possible so as to have more options in the future. The more money you have saved and the longer it is left to grow, the greater the control you have over how you work and for how long. But I would caution against the effects of the endorphin rush that comes with treating it like an extreme numbers-game. I’ll leave you with two thoughts:

  1. Before committing every last penny to the glorious goal of an early Life of Riley, always build a solid pot of emergency cash where you can get at it … you know, in an emergency
  2. In the bid to put an ever-higher percentage of your salary into savings, don’t forget to live.


*2020 Women and retirement report, Scottish Widows




Talking Finances is a trading name of Talking Finances Ltd. Talking Finances Ltd is an appointed representative of Beaufort Financial Planning Limited, Kingsgate, 62 High Street, Redhill, Surrey, RH1 1SH, which is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, FCA Registration No. 583233

This article represents the personal opinion of Carole Haswell only and does not represent any opinion of Beaufort Financial Planning Limited. Financial decisions should not be made on the basis of this article

What do I know about astrophysics?

I have a namesake who is an astrophysicist (hello Carole!). I don’t know why this amuses me so much – it is hardly to my credit that I have so little knowledge or understanding about either astronomy or physics. And yet, for me, this is an area that feels so far out of my reach (in every sense of the word) that I don’t even think I have to try.

I am acutely aware that there are many, many people who feel the same way about finance and, in particular, about pensions and tax. (more…)

Life’s not fair…

…So be smart with what you’ve got!

I’ve been talking to a number of young women in recent months. When I do this, two thoughts stay uppermost in my mind:

-Carole, do not expect these fresh faces to listen in an attentive and fascinated way while you blah on about pensions

-Whoa, you’re young. (more…)

The child – and her ‘trust fund’ – grow up

I suppose you could say it was inevitable. And this month it happened. The first of our children ceased to be a child. And along with the sanctioned alcoholic bubbles (plus the reluctant acceptance that, this year, there would be no party) came the arrival of The Letter.