Preface

Who is this book for?

This book is for every woman who wants to be financially independent, and by that, I mean independent of her parents, her partner, and even the state. All three of these can play a part in financial support along life's journey - there are times, indeed, when they should - but hopefully not for ever. In short, the purpose of this book is to get you to think about your finances more, and ultimately to take control of them.

This book is not designed to be a wholly comprehensive directory of financial products; this is a function performed far better by an advisory website, given just how often regulations change and new products appear. It is designed to be a book that will make you think about every area of your financial life, and challenge yourself to take steps towards your own financial finish line, the defined amount of money we need to earn in our lifetime.

Women need more financial knowledge than men. We live longer, and need to provide for ourselves for longer, while statistically, we earn less money than men over our average lifetime., It is often the inevitable result of taking time away to have children but of course women who do not have children can have career breaks forced on them too: elderly parents, a partner who is posted abroad, and illness can all mean that there may be times when a full time focus on your career is not possible.

But perhaps the main reason that I believe the time is right for a call to women to take charge of their own finances is because I think that there is a more fundamental reason that they are held back from doing so, and that is a lack of confidence. Women suffer more from this than men, and in the area of finance, so set about by jargon and idiosyncrasies, it's all too easy to become intimidated.

What I have learned, and want to share with the readers of this book, is that sorting out your finances - whether you want to make better investments, reduce your debt, buy a house or just get better financially educated - takes time. I saw this so often when I was making SuperScrimpers, the TV show that I presented for three years on Channel 4. Almost everyone that I came across during filming, from the people I spoke on the programme, to the crew and the make-up artist, were able to improve their finances by investing more time. Even I needed to invest more time, I realised.

During the latter part of the Olympics in August 2012 I took myself off to a clinic in Austria to invest some time in my physical health. I had never done anything like this before, and it was a revelation. My first few days were spent surviving on a daily ration of about 350 calories. I was issued with two tiny pieces of toast for breakfast and instructed to eat them in small portions, each of which I was to chew 40 times. I was so exhausted after tackling the first piece of toast that I abandoned the other and went to lie down. Lunch was identical, and dinner was a small bowl of vegetable soup. I was issued with six supplements a day, and goodness knows what they were, as they were all labelled in German.

Worst of all, I was allocated a seat in the dining room next to a beautiful, slim and much younger Russian lady with whom I was unable to converse. Not because of any language barrier (she spoke perfect English) but because talking while eating was banned. As was reading, watching TV, doing your email and so on. Instead, we were required to focus on masticating our food. At length. Not eating is hard enough for me, but not talking as well...?

After about a week of this I was feeling so much better and so full of energy that the doctor suggested I saw what he termed 'the mind doctor'; the idea being that once I had sorted out my physical issues, I should be sorting out everything else in my life. This doctor was essentially a therapist, and I confess I am not mad about the idea of therapy – it costs a lot of money, takes up time and I am never convinced it has results - but I dutifully went along, and she asked me to list all the things in my life I wished I could sort out.

Pretty well top of the list came my mortgage; I bought my house in 2008 and four years later still had the same mortgage arrangements, which I knew were not ideal, not least because they were interest-only. The mind-doctor asked me why I hadn't sorted it out. Because I had not had time, I replied. I felt stupid even as I said it.

Back home, the Olympics over, I got straight on with reorganising my mortgage to a repayment one with a much better interest rate and a payment schedule that suited my earning pattern. This all saved me about £10,000 a year in cash requirements (I have a big mortgage) and the only thing that had been preventing me from doing this before was my failure to find the time. So even I, who write weekly in a financial newspaper (and read it daily),and run a business that turns over millions of pounds a year, and have an MBA, and a PhD in structured finance…even I find it difficult to stay on top of things and make enough time for my personal finances. The lesson from this is that no one need feel ashamed for not having taken control of their finances to date, because it is never too late to start.

If you are wary of the world of finance, or feel in dire lack of control of your own affairs, or are very clued up but realise you might need some motivation to achieve more with your money, this is the book for you. I hope it will inspire you to invest more time and more effort in achieving your financial independence.

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