Jeff Prestridge 

Put financial education on the wishlist

Jeff Prestridge

Jeff Prestridge

If someone were to force me to make a New Year’s Eve financial wish this year – which they will not, knowing my friends – it would be that we all could save a little bit more in 2019.

Grandiose? Maybe. Portentous? Probably (my apologies, too much Christmas fare already). But heartfelt? Absolutely.

Although you may not agree with me (do you ever?), I think we are in danger of slowly losing the savings habit in this country.

The demise of the defined benefit pension scheme, constant pensions meddling by out-of-touch politicians, austerity, economic uncertainty and the Brexit factor have all chipped away at our willingness to save for tomorrow.

Spend today and spend again tomorrow. No surprise then that the savings ratio, so the Office for National Statistics tells us, is plunging faster than water cascading down Niagara Falls.

Of course, it is not all one-way traffic. Pension auto-enrolment is a 'success' – or, to be more precise, has been heralded a success.

Primarily by those same politicians who have undermined our pensions with a panoply of tax and rule changes that now make pensions as mind-bending as solving a Rubik’s cube. Do politicians understand the word ‘simplicity’? I think not.

Yes, it is fantastic that auto-enrolment has got 8m workers saving into a workplace pension for the first time – or saving more than they were previously. Yet the amounts being saved – often 5 per cent of a slice of their earnings – are not going to guarantee them a blissful retirement. Far from it.

And of course, one must not forget the role that Isas have played in helping build wealth – although like pensions I fear they are beginning to suffer from over-complication. More variations than types of chocolate in a Christmas tin of Quality Street.

Different rules for different versions. All rather confusing and ultimately all rather off-putting.

Yet the fact remains that for all the ‘good’ of auto-enrolment and tax-friendly Isas, we are not squirrelling cash away in sufficient quantity.

As a nation we need to save more. For our own good and society’s good.

Surely we want our growing army of oldies (a term I use lovingly) to be prosperous, rather than living in poverty? To be taxpayers, contributing and enriching, rather than being a burden.

So how do we encourage people to forego some of the joys of today (the new 65 inch widescreen TV) and save a little more and a little bit more responsibly?

The starting point has to be more financial education. Although it is this is now embodied within the national curriculum, most children leaving school or adults graduating from university do not possess the money management skills necessary to get their heads round key financial issues – money matters, such as the importance of saving (however little to begin with), whether to pension auto-enrol or opt out, the value of shopping around for products (from bank accounts to insurance), the dangers of credit cards and how to keep a credit file free of black marks.

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