One Money Expert Explains How To Improve Your Finances

As an author, and the founder and CEO of digital platform Vestpod, Emilie Bellet is determined to change the conversation around money and empower women financially. Convinced that financial services and products have ignored women for too long, she’s made it her mission to help people build a healthier relationship with money. Here, she answers some of our burning financial questions…

You talk about wanting to ‘financially empower women’ – what does that mean?

On average, women's pensions are £100,000 less than men’s due to gender pay gap and childcare commitments. We also have a £15 billion gender investment gap in the UK – but we can change these stats. I want to help women strive to be more financially independent, to live their lives on their terms, while feeling secure and confident about their present and future. 

I used to work in finance and, while my job involved investing money, I wasn’t doing it for myself. It really struck me just how little financial education we receive – I had to go out there and find out what it meant to invest in the stock market, ISAs, etc. It wasn’t a conversation I ever had with my parents or my girlfriends and, because of this, it felt really overwhelming – especially when the financial services and products that exist aren’t well-tailored to women either. A lot of the time, with women, the reluctance to tackle our finances has to do with a lack of confidence. So, when I talk about ‘financially empowering women’, I’m talking about giving women the tools they need to be fully confident in their financial decisions. 

Why do you think women are less inclined to talk about money than men?

A lot of it has to do with the fact we don’t necessarily emotionally connect with the world of finance, often because it can feel patronising and male dominated. Just as an example, when I first went to see a financial advisor in my late 20s, I was asked by the (male) advisor where my husband was. It was truly shocking. Plus, as I mentioned above, women often lack confidence and are afraid of coming across as uneducated, which means we simply shut down and avoid talking about money altogether. It’s why we need to make finance more relatable and easier to understand – cut the jargon and learn to speak to women directly about their needs and concerns.

Are there any common mistakes you see women making when it comes to money?

Many of the issues women face are structural – so women aren’t making mistakes per se, the problem is the system isn’t helping them (indeed, it often makes it more difficult for women to succeed financially). Specifically, I’m talking about the gender pay gap and motherhood penalty. However, we need to focus on things we can change, like building up an emergency savings fund and starting to invest as early as possible. Women are great savers, but we sometimes shy away from taking more risk – only because we tend to be more risk aware (not risk averse). Once we do invest, however, we even tend to outperform men. So again, it’s all about the confidence and just knowing how to get started.

How does the work you do at Vestpod help women?

At Vestpod, we talk openly about money, without judgement and with zero jargon. We publish a weekly newsletter, post regular educational content on Instagram, host workshops and events, and run a weekly podcast, called The Wallet. All these avenues aim to open up honest conversations about financial concerns, problems, as well as women’s financial achievements. Discussing money can feel very awkward and we tend to judge ourselves (and sometimes the people around us, too). I always encourage the Vestpod community members to stop linking their self-worth to their net-worth, and not to compare themselves to other people’s perceived successes. 

Why is now such an important time to take stock of our finances?

The post-pandemic world is a really good opportunity to reset. It’s important to pause, take a step back and look at the big picture. When was the last time you sat down and really looked into your finances? During the pandemic, some of your financial habits may have changed, and you may now find yourself better or worse off. That’s why it’s important to really reassess where you stand financially today, and how you can improve your present and future financial situation. 

So, how would you advise people do this?

Start with the basics: the numbers. It can be scary to confront them at first, but you need to know how much money you have, how much you earn monthly, and how much you spend – and what proportion of your spending goes to needs versus ‘wants’. 

People should then calculate their net worth (that means all your assets – what you own, minus your liabilities and what you owe). This simple calculation will help you check how much money you have in your bank accounts, pensions, investments, but it will also help you face your debts, from short-term overdrafts and credit card debts to mortgages and student loans. It’s a starting point, but you can do the calculation again every six months to see whether you’re getting any wealthier.

Start with the basics: the numbers. It can be scary to confront them at first, but you need to know how much money you have, how much you earn monthly, and how much you spend.

What sort of long-term impact do you see the pandemic having on people’s finances?

It’s exacerbated the financial plight of people who may have already had lower incomes. From reduced earnings to job losses, people may have incurred more debt and used their savings. It will take years to catch up, making it more difficult to achieve long-term goals. For those who have been lucky to keep their jobs and maintain their earnings with fewer expenses (such as travelling/commuting/eating out), they have been able to start investing the surplus money they had saved, which is great.

Is there any way to bulletproof your finances to protect yourself in the future?

It’s very important to have an emergency fund, which is a little pot of money that’s available to access any time, in case something happens to you – whether that’s a redundancy, leaving a toxic relationship, moving home or other unexpected expenses. Advisers recommend you have 3-6 months of living expenses to fall back on, but don’t worry if that’s not the case for you just yet. It’s important to start somewhere.

Investing is something you’ve already mentioned – do you have any tips for getting started?

Remember that investing is for the long term – you’re not a trader and you’re not doing this to make a quick buck. Step one is to think about your pension. When you have a pension, you get money from the government and your employer when you contribute, so your pot grows faster. Plus, the money in your pension is invested in the stock market, so you’re already an investor without even knowing it.

Besides your pension, you can also invest through a stocks and shares ISA. There are ample robo-advisors that do the investing on your behalf – look around and choose a platform you’re most comfortable with. It’s also important to stay invested for at least five to ten years: this will let your money grow, while also riding out any dips in the stock market. 

What’s your view of the market right now – is it a good time to invest?

It’s always better to start today rather than tomorrow. Once you have an emergency fund and have repaid your expensive short-term debts – such as overdrafts and credit cards – work on your financial goals, from the medium to the long term. Then, you should decide how much money you’re ready to ‘lock away’ i.e. invest for the long term.

Start small and invest regularly – this way you won’t be trying to ‘time the market’ (there is no best time to invest). Instead, focus on automating your investments and remember time is really your friend here – you’ll see greater returns. Also, it’s maybe better to ignore the noise around investing and really focus on your own goals.

What about people who want to take control of their pension – how would you advise they do this?

Start with finding your login details and check how much you’re contributing, how much your employer contributes and any tax relief you’re getting. See if you can increase your contributions and if your employer can match this. Use a free, online retirement calculator to double-check you’re on track to a desired level of retirement (we’re usually not, so don’t freak out – it’s all about awareness and making small adjustments).

The state pension won’t be enough for you to live on, which is why you may need a personal private pension – even if you’re a freelancer or business owner and don’t have an employer, you should still set up your pension. In fact, it’s even more vital that you do so because without an employer, it’s entirely up to you to​ sort out your own provisions for the future. If you have been taking time off work to take care of your children, make sure you claim Child Benefit to get National Insurance credits, too.

It’s very important to have an emergency fund, which is a little pot of money that’s available to access any time, in case something happens to you.

A lot of people say they need to save more – do you have any advice for them?

Start with screening your bank statements before you try to adjust your financial habits. Do you have any subscriptions you haven’t used or forgot to cancel? You can start saving some money by doing this. Then, look at your recurring bills such as utilities, phone and internet – use comparison websites and see if you could switch or get a better deal from your existing provider.

Decide on your priorities and be open to making small adjustments to achieve them. Old habits may die hard, but you may find yourself enjoying some of these changes. For example, instead of taking Ubers, plan ahead and incorporate more walking routes into your day. Or, you can learn how to cook your favourite take-out meal at home. You’ll be surprised how much you save when these add up. You may also have adopted some not-so-healthy spending habits during the pandemic, like impulse spending online on small items, and these add up quite quickly, so check your bank statements to see where your money is going. Finally, another good tip is to automate your savings: as soon as you get paid, set up an automated transfer to your savings account. It’s called the ‘set it and forget it’ rule. 

Do you have any good budgeting tips if people want to rein in their spending?

The 50/20/30 budgeting rule is simple and effective. In essence, this budgeting rule is a guide to how much you should be spending on your essentials, your savings/investments and your ‘wants’: 50% of your salary should be spent on essentials like rent, mortgages, bills, transportation, debt repayments and food; 20% of your salary should go into your savings; 30% should be spent on leisure activities and hobbies, such as restaurants and holidays. Because you save first, what’s left in your account is guilt-free money.

It’s a very rough guide – for example, the cost of living in London is high, so you may be spending more than 50% of your salary on rent and bills – but it’s still useful to separate your expenses into categories and keep track of them regularly. Also, address any issues you might have with impulsive spending – it’s often strongly connected to our money mindset, and things like FOMO. Figuring out what is it that makes you overspend is important – only then can you address the core problem.

How can people grow their disposable income?

It can feel very difficult to save when you have little disposable income. Finding extra income streams – like freelancing on the side – or asking for a salary raise are some ways of increasing your income. Negotiating your salary when you first start your job is also extremely important, especially for women. Make a habit of going over your possessions every three-to-six months and get rid of anything you no longer use or wear. Selling your things on eBay (or other resale websites) can generate a surprisingly large amount of disposable income. However, self-discipline and knowledge are the key components required to be financially fit. There are high earners out there that mismanage their money and end up with little in the way of savings/investments, so income isn’t everything.

Tell us a bit about your podcast The Wallet and what it aims to do…

All our guests are female – from journalists to money experts and entrepreneurs – and we chat all things saving and investing, as well as their personal career paths. I want to hear from women of all walks of life, but especially those who have insights and tips that would be valuable to the women in the Vestpod community. We’re soon launching a ‘money hotline’ series on the podcast, where our community members can submit their most pressing financial questions and I answer them. 

From your learnings on the podcast, how would you advise women get comfortable talking about money?

You don’t have to jump into discussing your salary or the cost of your mortgage straight away so, instead, start by sharing your financial goals and the steps you want to take or have taken toward reaching them.  Be curious about your friends’ situations – most people don’t talk about money because they fear being judged, so be open-minded and honest – you’ll see your friends are likely to do the same back. Sometimes, talking about a struggle both you and your friends might be experiencing – such as the cost of childcare – is a good place to start. Hopefully, together you can exchange tips, ideas, or even just vent, all of which will help your mental state and your wallet. 

Finally, in your view, what does it mean to be in good financial health?

We talk a lot about our mental wellbeing, but we often forget that being financially vulnerable or insecure is likely to make you very stressed. I want people to be comfortable living in the present as well as the future – which means being able to afford to take the holiday you want when you want it, or save for your dream home or retirement. Being financially fit is being in control of your day-to-day finances and staying on track to reach your financial goals.

With all the stigma we have around things like debt, money can feel like a very isolating and stressful topic. We need to change this. Everyone has the power to be in good financial health – yes, it’s harder for some people than for others (e.g. some of us have inherited financial privilege, while others haven’t) – but if you take care of your money, slowly with time, you’ll get to a position where you can build better financial habits, think more positively, feel more confident with your finances and build up your financial security.
 
 
Visit Vestpod.com and listen to The Wallet here. You can also buy Emilie's book ‘You’re Not Broke You’re Pre-Richhere.  
 
 
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