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I’ve got loads of assets. Plenty of people tell me that I am rich. Yet my bank account tells me I’m not.
I won’t plead poverty. That would be a career limiting move. Yet I am often overdrawn. There’s never enough money to do the things I want to do, and just enough to do the things I have to do. It comes in and goes out without touching the sides. Asset rich. Cash poor.
Even as someone who is never knowingly underpaid, I suspect I am not alone. Is your employer wringing their hands telling you how difficult things are (all roads lead to Brexit) whilst hoofing out large sums to seemingly everyone else in the building?
This time of year is always dire so far as cash flow is concerned. I’ve just started presenting a daily show on TalkRadio, which is brilliant, though I have to get up before the crack of dawn. However, I won’t get paid until February. Yikes!
Even if you are in the ranks of regular employment, the long stretch between the early December pay run and the first cash injection of the year is a ’mare to manage.
I’m living off the fumes of my bank account, the liquid having long been expunged. HMRC has taken its slice. The cars have had their winter service. Then there’s private health insurance and pet insurance — who knew that insuring the dog could cost more than insuring myself? And, oh no, the Christmas credit card statements are in.
The Fortnum & Mason tasselled Christmas tree decorations seemed like a good idea at the time. Even though all my cards are on direct debit, a month is plenty of time to rack up a tasty number that further strains my already fragile resources.
This isn’t a unique problem. Anyone with any money at all is forever trying to organise their finances in a way that the current account is in credit while everything else is well managed. Sometimes it feels like moving the deckchairs around on the Titanic.
Like last Saturday. I’d just spent £75 on a haircut (I’m worth it) and popped into Harvey Nicks where I couldn’t resist a pair of Paul Smith Chelsea boots in the sale for £100. Half price! Plus it was the other half’s birthday, which resulted in an epic dinner at Five Fields (well into three figures). Exuberant expenditure, yes. But that’s not the root cause of my financial illiquidity.
As much as I’d like to have a huge Mike Ashley-style wodge of fifties in my pocket, I don’t like to have too much cash slopping around — either in my trousers, or in my current account.
Interest rates are woeful. And if it’s there, I’ll spend it. So I fill my investment Isa and pay into my pension and if any large amounts come in, after allowing for income tax, I invest them too. So my money is locked up and somewhat illiquid.
My colleagues at FT Money suggested I should go through my direct debits and give them a light pruning.
I have an iPhone X, which is a necessity, as are the debits to all manner of broadband, TV and streaming services. My utility bills are out of control. I might save a few quid if I switch, yet it’s like clipping toenails. Unpleasant and only done when absolutely necessary.
The last time I changed energy suppliers, I did save money. But I ended up with a tiny company nobody’s ever heard of which is an abomination of an organisation.
The truth is, I have a club problem — although not of the Presidents variety. (The four private members’ clubs that I belong to won’t support boorish, sexist or homophobic behaviour.)
Even if the property industry in which I have spent so much of my career is often locked in the moral dark ages, my expenditure is more wholesome. Yet the subs still drain my bank account.
As a freelancer, the whole concept of a club that’s open late, offers WiFi and flexible working space is very compelling. I don’t need an office to do my job, but I do need to meet people. All the time. WeWork will tell you that its business model will wipe out the private member’s club. I disagree. The only barrier to entry at a club is the sky-high fee. There’s no filter and part of the allure of a private member’s club is the waft of celebrity, notoriety or exclusivity.
Looking at my bank statements, Soho House is staying. Not only is its London offer superb, it would be too much to bear if I wasn’t able to bomb off to Oxfordshire to the Farmhouse — ostensibly, Center Parcs for people who shop at Waitrose. Anyway, the £1,650 annual membership fee is good value, payable in November and already done.
What about the clubs I don’t use so much? The Carlton Club, for example, is a lovely bufty tufty old place in St James’s. I have been a member for 25 years. If you wander around its curiously decorated, high-ceilinged old school rooms, with portraits of once-great politicians hanging resplendently, you might wonder if this is an old folks’ home for rich people or a waiting room for Dignitas.
And then there’s the dress code. The Carlton insists gentlemen must wear jackets and ties (if there is “exceptionally hot weather” then jackets can be removed in the Wellington Room or on the terrace).
I don’t like ties. And I rarely have time for lunches that start at noon and end at 6pm, but on balance the £1,542 they swept from my account on January 2 is money well spent. The food is economically priced and delicious, the house claret is exquisite and the ability to sink occasionally into an armchair for a snooze after lunch makes life worth living.
And then there’s the Queen’s Tennis Club which costs me £2,020 a year. But they have a great annual tennis tournament. It is worth it for that alone (I told you I had a problem!)
A good members’ club is about more than this. It helps with connections. Business is still about who you know, not what you know.
A few years ago, I joined a West End club called Century. At the time it was quite groovy. It’s been through many iterations over the years and recently on a visit I realised that it was nothing more than a smartish bar with average food and no interesting members. Ding. It’s gone. Is that enough of a cut? Of course not.
Since I am committed to my other establishments, the solution is clear. I’ll simply have to get more work. Any offers? I know a good club where we can go for lunch.