Opinion  

The habit we need

Jeff Prestridge

Jeff Prestridge

How times change. Five years ago, my morning ritual used to comprise a bowl of Quaker’s porridge oats at 5.30am on the dot – to the accompaniment of Radio 4 bursting into life - before heading off to work in my battered Renault Megane.

Bar the occasional hiccup such as a puncture, I would be at my desk before 6.30, raring to go, so I could tackle the key personal finance issues of the day.

But no more. Now, I avoid the porridge because of a ‘no food before one o’clock in the afternoon’ policy instigated to lose weight in the wake of a dog attack early this year that left the dog sated but me facing a long layoff from running after a rather galling skin graft.

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The Renault has also gone, with the result that I now walk to a tube station every working day. The porridge has been replaced by a daily copy of the free – and non-edible – City of London newspaper CityAM.

For a free paper, CityAM is a surprisingly good read, especially the forum page, where City experts, economists and policy specialists discuss key topics.

For example, a recent forum column threw the economy forward to 2030 when, the author predicts, cars will be driverless, we will have a female chancellor at Number 11, and sterling will have been converted to a digital currency. Thought-provoking.

Another riveting recent forum column – this time from Steve Hughes, head of economic and social policy at think tank Policy Exchange – explained the economics manifesto that the next government should pursue. There were three main prongs: “create the most innovative and competitive economy in the world”, “build a capital-owning democracy” and “deliver a value for money government’”.

Grandiose objectives, you might think, but it was the Policy Exchange’s specific ideas on creating a capital-owning democracy that I found intriguing, if only because they should stimulate debate among those who believe a vibrant savings culture should lie at the heart of a thriving democracy.

The Exchange firmly believes, quite rightly, that we are not saving enough as a nation – less per household than in France, Germany and China. A future government should look at ways to boost the savings habit.

It is music to my sensitive ears, and I am sure music to the ears of all financial planners, whose prime purpose in life (correct me if I am wrong) is to ensure people accumulate sufficient assets in their working lives to see them through a long and hopefully prosperous retirement.

Some of the proposals outlined by the Policy Exchange to stimulate the savings habit are a little left-field. But they are certainly worthy of consideration, at the very least. Among them is the idea of private sector premium bonds – savings accounts whereby holders are given the chance to “randomly win a set cash prize alongside, or in some cases instead of, a fixed interest rate”.