This is the tenth in a series of personal finance blogger interviews with fellow personal finance bloggers. Today’s guest is Graham Clark from Moneystepper.
Who is moneystepper?
Graham: It’s me…for now. I’m Graham Clark, a qualified chartered accountant and self-proclaimed personal finance geekazoid! I’m 28, currently live in the South of France with my fiancée, where I am thoroughly enjoying being able to go outside in winter and not freeze to death!!
Why did you start moneystepper?
Graham: Because I thought that I had something to contribute. Having read personal finance sections of mainstream media for years, I was becoming fed up with the lack of analysis and proof provided. Each day, I would read a new sensational headline. When you look behind it, you would find no support. I spoke to other people about this and they got annoyed with the same thing. Therefore, I try to present articles on Moneystepper which form unbiased opinions based on the actual underlying data.
This is probably best demonstrated through an example. I would read a headline in the paper which screams out “Britain’s house prices soar” in their big black bold font.
Then, I would look into the detail. The process for the article went:
- An estate agent would complete a survey or an investigation of some sort (maybe looking at 10,000 house sales across the country).
- They would highlight a small part of the data in their “analysis” which supported their point. For instance, they want more people to sell houses, so they report that there was 10% increase in sales prices in the year. However, they don’t mention that this was only for a small part of one city and that it was the price that the house was listed for rather than what it sold for.
- The lazy newspaper reporter takes the headline and makes it even more sensational for their readers.
Therefore, and this is a real example from last year, the actual data shows that house prices on sold houses across the UK was flat. These house prices fell in real terms against inflation. Outside of London, house prices fell for the majority of the regions.
However, this was simply reported by the mainstream media as “Britain’s house prices soar”. A win for the estate agent in question!
My other objective is to educate readers in the power of the long-term. In all my articles, I show how much someone could save or earn by performing a certain task. However, I also ensure that I demonstrate the savings over the long-term after the impact of, everyone’s favorite friend, compound interest!
What are your favorite blogs?
Graham: I have a few in different categories:
Reach Financial Independence – Pauline is an inspiration. Fed up of her stressful and unrewarding professional 9-5 life, she packed it all in and moved to Guatemala to start a guest house and live off the income from her sites! And she rides a motorbike through Europe – too cool! A true inspiration to Moneystepper, and I’m sure she will be to you too.
Girl Counting Pennies – By chance, I have followed Eva’s financial journey almost from her first post, and have been completed enthralled by her personal writing style and her journey in paying down her debt.
The Simple Dollar – If you want some inspiration on your path to financial success, Trent at The Simple Dollar is definitely your man!
Stacking Benjamins – Not so much for the blog, but the excellent podcasts recorded each week by “Average Joe” and “The Other Guy”. Easy listening, very amusing and there is a wealth of knowledge in every episode.
Len Penzo – A regular contributor to the Stacking Benjamins podcast, he is quite simply hilarious. If you haven’t already, go check out his “100 words on” and “Black Coffee” weekly posts.
When did you first become financially literate?
Graham: Without sounding overly cocksure, I think I have always been.
As discussed later, my parents taught me all the basics of finance when I was young. I have never been in debt and understood the importance of compound interest and other such magical tools since I was very young.
I then was very strong at mathematics at school and university which helped my understanding of budgeting, how to calculate returns and projecting future events. After university, I qualified as a chartered accountant, which in turn augmented my technical accounting and reporting knowledge and over the past 15 years I have been a regular reader of financial columns in newspapers, economic magazines, etc. Finance has always interested me and always will. Whilst I classify myself as financially literate, there is always something new to learn. The research I perform into statistical data for the articles on moneystepper teaches me something new every time.
What was the last item you regretted purchasing?
Graham: My mortgage! Well, it’s a little more complicated than that.
When I moved from the UK to France, I had 2 week’s notice before I made the move. Luckily in that time, I found a tenant to move into my property for the 2 years that I planned to be away. Great luck. I phoned the bank to inform them of my change of address and they told me that I needed to change my mortgage product from a residential mortgage to a “consent to lease” mortgage.
This didn’t sound too bad. However, I had to pay a £999 product fee upfront, and my interest rate changed from 2% to 6.2%. They informed me that they couldn’t offer their normal “buy-to-let” product as the property was not bought to let. I was stuck. I couldn’t look elsewhere as my mortgage provider informed me that they were going to cancel my old mortgage on the day I left the country as I was no longer the resident.
Therefore, if I didn’t take their new offer, I would have to repay the outstanding amount. I couldn’t go elsewhere because other lenders could not approve the mortgage (together with the legal and survey work) within that time frame. It got worse. Not only did I have to pay the product fee and higher rates, it was a fixed 3 year deal with a 3% overpayment charge to change anything about the mortgage during that period.
What did I learn? Well, at the time I didn’t look at the small print. I was busy trying to organize international shipping of my stuff to France, to find a place to live in a new city, etc. No time to read the silly small print.
I was happy to pay the £999 fee and 6.2% interest, as it resolved the short-term problem and I had planned to look into alternatives once I reached France. However, by not investigating the small print, I missed the 3% overpayment charge. Doh!
My advice, READ EVERYTHING! And then, read it again!!
If you died today, would your family be OK?
Graham: No, they would obviously be devastated!! How rude!
I’m guessing you mean from a financial perspective. In this case, I currently have no dependents, so they would be fine. I have a substantial death in service insurance benefit with my employer and my fiancée’s salary would be able to service any outstanding debts I would leave behind (mortgage interest). Therefore, I really hope it doesn’t happen (!), but if I did die today, they would be financially OK.
What are you teaching (or will you teach) your kids about money?
Graham: I learned a lot from my parents about the value of money. However, I learned nothing technical at all. Nothing about investment options, the stock market, mortgages, ISAs, ETF or whatever else. What this did teach me was all the fundamentals that everyone needs to know (and a lot of people these days seem to overlook) which underpins everything we do from a financial standpoint.
I learned about piggy banks. I learned the importance of working hard to earn money (pocket-money for performing chores). I learned the importance of saving toward a specific goal. I learned about budgeting for that goal. I learned that spending money on things you didn’t really want did no provide any enjoyment or satisfaction. I learned that you can’t have what you can’t afford.
And this is what I shall teach my kids about: the fundamentals, the principles. There is no point teaching them about financial markets and products, because by the time they are 20, these will have significantly changed.
My aim is to teach my kids the same things that my great-great-great-granddad taught my great-great-grandma!
What’s your dream job?
Graham: I do not have one specific “dream” job or profession. My dream is to have the freedom to choose what I want to do. This might change each year – I get bored easily!!
I consider “dream job” and “early retirement” as being one and the same. Having the capital and passive income to allow me to do what I wish for “work” is my ultimate goal, which I intend to achieve before I am 50. Speaking of which, I better get on…