Plans for a prosperous start to the new decade

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Timing can be perfect, but it can be disastrous too. My mortgage term comes to an end next May – just when I’ll be juggling a five-month-old daughter (Madeleine) and a three-year-old (Orlagh). Yes, my husband Rob could step into the fold and do the remortgaging, but he routinely – and sensibly – leaves all the big money decisions to the financial nerd of the house (me).

So, how many rounds of Wheels On The Bus will I have sung before I realise it’s August and I’ve been paying some hideous standard variable mortgage rate for the last quarter? Motherhood is busy but it should not render one incapable – far from it. Multi-tasking will be my middle name in 2020. So, in between the nappy changes, the tantrums (hopefully my toddler’s rather than my own or Rob’s for that matter) and the lullabies, I am determined to remortgage on to a competitive deal.

That’s despite the fact that being on reduced pay during maternity leave never really works in your favour when it comes to mortgage affordability assessments.

But I will strive to get the best possible deal. Maybe not as good as the 2.35 per cent fixed-rate loan deal we have enjoyed for more than four and a half years, but I will shop around – and then shop around again. The health of our family’s finances depends on it.

Next year is when I am going to get my investment based Individual Savings Account back on track. My plan? Regular monthly contributions into a few stock market-listed investment trusts renowned for their income-friendliness.

Last year’s Isa plans got shunted into a siding by the fact that every time I tried to set up a monthly investment plan with my Isa provider the direct debit wouldn’t work.

I’d set up the direct debit instruction again, only for the payment not to be taken (again).

In the end, I gave up in frustration, instead making occasional lump sum investments inside my tax-friendly Isa when I felt flush – which was not often. These investments were made without any computer gremlins spoiling the party.

So, this calendar year, I’m going to defy those gremlins and invest in a number of UK and global investment trusts – a few pounds (double digits, not triple) every month.

I’ve yet to make up my mind which ones, but I’ll be choosing from the trusts that form the dividend heroes list compiled by the Association of Investment Companies (take a peek at theaic.co.uk). Twenty-one trusts that have grown their dividends every year for at least the last 20.

Most broadly invested across the globe (which I like), and a few UK focused and ideally positioned to benefit from a revitalised economy under Superman Johnson.

I will also continue to put a bit of money inside my cash Isa. It’s my emergency fund, there to help me when tax bills come winging their way or I’m in urgent need of a revitalising few days up in the Tramuntana mountains wandering lonely as a Majorcan cloud. Next year, every time I walk past a branch of my cash Isa provider, I promise to make a deposit. Prudent. Sensible. A given. A must.

It has been a great year for virtue signalling but the opportunity to become holier-than-thou has so far passed me by. Next year, that is going to change. I am going green. I live in the Hertfordshire countryside and look out on lots of greenery.

But I have recently noticed new roads and property developments sprouting up.

This destruction of nature seems to be ‘"greenwashed" with logos, such as from the Environment Agency. But next year, rather than just complaining, I will calculate my carbon footprint and work out how to nullify it.

First, I will find out what it means – it all sounds mumbo-jumbo to me – and how I can calculate my personal pollution. I will then draw up a plan. Perhaps I will plant trees, recycle more (cutting down on plastics) and use my bicycle rather than car.

I aim to shop for more locally produced food, make sure I use a green energy supplier and cut down on energy and water waste.

I am determined to take control of my numerous pension pots in 2020.

Having spent the past 20 years switching back and forth in my working life between being a salaried employee and a freelancer, I now have eight different pensions, the paperwork of which is to be found in various files and boxes scattered around my home.

They are a right hotch-potch. Some are defined benefit – meaning I am on the way to earning myself a pension based on the number of years I worked for the company and my leaving salary.

Others are defined contribution which have a monetary value. Some seem worth quite a bit, others a hundred pounds at best.

I’ve no idea what they’re worth in total or what they’re invested in. Nor do I know what fees I am paying, nor whether I should leave them as they are or attempt to consolidate them – if that’s actually even possible.

The prospect of tackling such a mountain of paperwork makes my heart sink, but I know that the moment I get a grip on my pension pile I will feel more confident about my financial future.

It’s been on my to-do list for far too long.

The year 2020 is when my pensions are going to get back on track. I might even seek the advice of a qualified adviser who knows pensions inside out.

But did they all keep their promises from this time last year?

I have been quite impressed with myself this year on the raising money for charity front (my New Year’s resolution for 2019). I’ve been true to my word and raised quite a lot of dosh.

In April, I raised a healthy five-figure sum for Brathay Trust, a Cumbrian-based charity (brathay.org.uk) that helps disadvantaged children get a good start in life.

It was a rather painful fund-raising effort, involving a somewhat tortuous 26.2 miles of running, walking and hobbling around the streets of London. I’ve done the London Marathon a few times before, but never has it hurt so much.

Only the need to keep going in order for the donations to flow into Brathay got me to the end.

I also raised a four-figure sum for charity Prostate Cancer UK, this time by running the Royal Parks half-marathon in October – a course that takes you through Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens in London as well as alongside Green Park and St James’s Park.

Although my calves were not happy to begin with (tight as two drums), the run was hugely enjoyable.

I’ve already entered 2020’s race when I will again be raising money for Prostate Cancer UK (prostatecanceruk.org). Having been diagnosed with the cancer in March this year, I’m determined to do my bit to find new ways of treating this disease.

I want the cancer eradicated before it eradicates me.

This year, I promised to be a grown-up and arrange a will, spelling out who gets what when I die.

I was also determined to set up a lasting Power of Attorney, granting a trusted relative the authority to look after my finances if ill-health means I no longer can.

Sadly, it turns out I’m still acting like Peter Pan – I haven’t grown up yet. Despite spending time thinking about these adult matters, for the most part I’ve failed to turn my intention into action. The Power of Attorney has been signed and sent off to be registered, but the will is still outstanding. Even just confessing this means I’m already mentally bumping it up a few places on the to-do personal finance list. I will.

It was my aim to get rid of my half-century-old Sunbeam Alpine. But it has driven me round the bend getting it ready for sale. I have been distracted by setting eyes on the car of my dreams – a second-hand Lotus Elise, left.

Finding £15,000 to buy the car was not plain sailing. Unfortunately, there was no money under the mattress, so I took advantage of rock-bottom interest rates and took out a loan.

It means I will be paying back just under £440 a month to Nationwide Building Society for the next three years.

Painful on the wallet? Yes. But the car is a cracker. British, bags of fun and totally impractical.

What’s not to love about that combination?

Twelve months ago, I vowed to plug all those little money leaks that go unnoticed but add up to a massive flood when you tot them up. How did I do? Well, I probably award myself four out of ten for effort.

My aim was to halt my Amazon Prime account (£7.99 a month); change my BT email because the telecoms giant charges about £7 a month just for me to use the online address; and untie the family from the AA’s eye-watering vehicle recovery ‘membership’ fee – costing in excess of £200 a year. Hands up – I have failed on the first two counts. But I now actually find myself using the Amazon Prime service quite regularly to indulge in movies I can’t find elsewhere. As for the email address, I was just too busy to get my act together.

However, let the drums roll. After three decades I have finally ditched the AA for an equivalent car recovery deal one-fifth of the price. So that’s an annual saving of about £165 – spookily enough to cover the cost of the other two money leaks.

I was not amused to receive a pre-Christmas letter from the AA trying to get me to re-join – for £139 a year. You have got to be kidding. On your bike AA.

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