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Mouthy Money editor Edmund Greaves meets author and entrepreneur Robert Gardner to find out about his new book Freedom: Earn It, Keep It, Grow It.
PLUS: find out how you can have a chance to win one of five copies of the book on how to achieve financial freedom
Thanks for joining us Robert. Tells us a bit about yourself and your background.
I’m an author, entrepreneur, and investor. Having spent the last 20 years in an investment consultancy called Redington, I founded a pensions business called Mallow Street and also RedSTART, a charity to teach young people about money, how it works and how to make it work for them.
I’ve also written two books: a children’s book called Save Your Acorns in 2016, which is a short animated book, and then my lockdown project, Freedom: Earn It, Keep It, Grow It, which covered three kind of core money moves and was aimed at young professionals or self-employed, earning between £30k – £150k and getting them to think about money.
Talking about Freedom: Earn It, Keep It, Grow It, along with the three core aspects to it, what’s the main takeaway that you want people to get from it?
The big takeaway is that it’s not how much you earn, but how much you keep and grow and the magic of compound interest: how much work investing can do for you when saving for a pension or other things over a 40 – 50-year time frame, but in order to do that you need to keep hold of your money. At the same time, clearly if you’re earning £60k, it’s easier to do this than if you’re earning £30k.
I also wanted to dispel the myth around earning more money that people can create financial freedom by building this discipline of saving. It’s about having a plan and building the habit of saving 20% and thirdly if you’re saving for a pension or investing, then you need to think ahead.
What is the incentive for somebody who’s looking to make more with their money to put it into investments when they could just be earning 5% in a savings account?
Even if you look at a time when inflation was quite benign and running at 3%, your money would still be halving every 20 years. Unless you’re owning real assets, if you’re just putting all your money in the bank account, you’ll really struggle to grow it faster than inflation and that’s why you need to invest.
However, it’s hard to do, managing the tension between what feels the right thing to do over the next two years rather than over the next 20 years.
One of the key things I talk about in the book is ‘weatherproofing’ your finances – paying off your debts and having an emergency buffer of between three to 12 months of your living expenses which will enable you to weather the bumps in the road.
Your background is in investing and pensions consultancy. How can you take your experience and translate that into a book for the general public / average consumer?
The challenge is the same whether it’s an institution, pension fund or an individual. The trick is the language and the engagement.
I wrote Save Your Acorns, I founded RedSTART and I’ve delivered 1,000s of hours of financial training to primary-age children right the way through to adulthood. Through the work I’ve done around financial education – including RedSTART, teaching Girl Guides about entrepreneurship, sitting on the World Economic Forum and being chair of the Financial Education Council.
I’m aware of the importance of how you demystify the technical aspects of financial products such as pensions and make them relatable in a way that encourages people to take action
That brings me to my next question, tell me a bit more about RedSTART and what your involvement is in the charity. How did it get started and where it where it’s at now.
I’m the co-founder of RedSTART, and I’m still a trustee and very actively involved in the charity.
The genesis of it was having co-founded the pensions consultancy Redington, I wanted to do something that related or linked to our business but went beyond that. We started out by working with a local secondary school and teaching teenagers about money matters such as, tax, saving and investing.
However, in 2013, research came out from Cambridge University which revealed that our money-saving habits are formed by the age of seven and so we decided to focus our support on primary schools.
Our aim is to teach them through experiential learning and games about how to earn, keep and grow money, which inspired the title of my book. Having delivered financial education to about 45,000 children, our new CEO Sarah Marks joined the charity a couple of years ago and refreshed the strategy.
The charity is working with The Policy Institute at King’s College London on a seven-year longitudinal research study called ‘Change the Game’ working with over 45 schools in areas of greater disadvantage and tracking how they’re doing, to hopefully demonstrate that teaching them financial education at an early age has a beneficial future impact, helping them to make the right financial choices and decision when they become older.
I’m hugely passionate about RedSTART and that’s why all proceeds from my book are going directly to support the fantastic work it’s doing.
We’ve given copies of my book to the teachers and children that we’re working with at RedSTART – and actually some of the book’s characters are used in RedSTART’s educational materials!
Do you think financial education should be separate from maths? What do you see in terms of who should be responsible ultimately?
What RedSTART is trying to do is teach the concepts of money and the habits they’ll need in later life.
That doesn’t mean teaching them about underlying complex financial things, but about getting them to a point that when they start work, they’re engaged with their money, thinking about their pension and understanding if they get a pay rise, the trade-offs between saving and paying off debt, for example.
Not everyone’s going to get excited about the detail of financial or financial products, but it’s about giving them a base level of awareness and understanding around making good money decisions in our everyday life, as getting them right or wrong can have a profound impact on our lives and our mental health.
How realistic do you think achieving financial freedom is for people, ultimately? And can people take hope in that?
For most people, there’s an opportunity to take out about 10% of their expenses and divert that for long-term investing and actually over 10-20 years it makes a massive difference. I do believe if you kind of follow the examples in the stories you can create financial freedom.
Would you like a chance to win one of five copies of Freedom: Earn It, Keep It, Grow It by Robert Gardner?
The competition is now CLOSED. Winners will be announced shortly.
Edmund Greaves is editor of Mouthy Money. Formerly deputy editor of Moneywise magazine, he has worked in journalism for over a decade in politics, travel and now money.