‘I lived in a squat and begged 40p at a station to pay for a Tube fare’: Outspoken TalkRadio star Julia Hartley-Brewer is unashamed to confess she once asked strangers for cash
Spender: But Julia Hartley-Brewer also invests
Journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer says her biggest financial regret was not investing in the stock market and starting a pension when she was younger.
Julia, 52, who hosts the breakfast show on TalkRadio, also reveals that although these days she wears Chanel perfume, drinks champagne and gets paid up to £3,000 for three minutes of her time, life has not always been easy.
She spoke to DONNA FERGUSON from her home in North London which she shares with her husband and their 13- year-old daughter.
What did your parents teach you about money?
Not to spend it on something you don’t need or love. My parents grew up without money and always knew the price of everything. As a result, I can’t bear to waste it. I spend a lot of money on things I value, but I will never waste even 20 pence on something I don’t need.
My parents were students when I was born. My mother went on to become a GP, but she was a student doctor for most of my childhood. She broke up with my father when I was a few months old, and then remarried. But my father remained 100 per cent involved as I grew up.
My dad had several jobs. He had grown up poor – he used to do a coal round and give the money to his mum to buy food. He eventually became a postgraduate teacher, an economist, and he also worked at the BBC.
Growing up, I never worried about money. It was tight but middle-class tight – not working-class tight. We lived within a strict budget and there was never any money to splash about, but equally, we never struggled.
Have you ever struggled to make ends meet?
Yes, definitely. When I was at university, I remember being too terrified to put my debit card in the wall machine because I thought if I didn’t have any money it wouldn’t come out again.
After university, I did some unpaid work experience at The Times newspaper. I had nowhere to live and no income, so I moved into a squat in the East End of London and ate a lot of rice, pasta and tinned tomatoes.
Once, I was 40 pence short of the Tube fare, so I stood at the station and asked people for money so I could afford to get on the train. I didn’t find it humiliating – I just accepted that was what I needed to do to get where I wanted to be.
After that, I got a job at a local newspaper in London earning £9,000 a year. Even in the 1990s, that was still not a lot of money. It was a struggle. I used to walk everywhere because I couldn’t afford public transport. I had no spare cash and still had college debts to pay off. But I always knew deep down that I’d be OK. I didn’t have a sense of hopelessness. I saw what I was doing as a stepping stone to something better.
My experiences have given me a tiny inkling of understanding as to what it is like to live day to day, week to week.
Of course, I always had my parents as back-up. At the same time, I knew I never wanted to be in that financial position again.
Have you ever been paid silly money?
Yes. I once got paid £3,000 for a three-minute after dinner speech which was fabulous. I was one of a number of speakers at the event and thankfully they didn’t pay me by the word.
What was the best year of your financial life?
It would have been this year if it hadn’t been for the pandemic, so last year was my most successful.
I’d rather not say how much I earned in 2019, but I was presenting the breakfast show on TalkRadio. When you’re getting up at 4.40 every morning, you tend to get well compensated for it.
What is the most expensive thing you bought for fun?
Celebrating my 50th birthday – I spent a hell of a lot of money on a party. I invited 170 guests and had a marquee and caterers – and it was worth every single penny.
What is your biggest money mistake?
Not investing in a pension and stocks and shares. I’ve been good at earning money and not spending it – I don’t fritter it away. But I have not been good at investing it. I wish I had been.
During lockdown, I had a massive sort-out of my finances and one of the things I’ve been organising is my pension.
I’ve also started investing in the stock market since the pandemic started. I figure the only way is up for stocks and shares, so I have put a lot of money into a FTSE100 tracker fund as a long-term investment – more than my annual Isa allowance of £20,000. I like the idea of a tracker because it’s low cost.
The best money decision you have made?
Going freelance. I left a staff job as a political editor at the Sunday Express in 2011. I trusted I could earn more money by backing myself – and it’s paid off every single year since by a long way. I also feel I have got more say over my career.
My dad always advised me to have ‘walk away’ money – a sum that allows you to be financially independent, so you can always walk away, whether it be from a relationship or a job, and still be able to pay your bills.
Do you own any property?
I do. I own my three-bedroom flat in North London with my husband. We bought it in 2006 which I have since been told was the peak of the housing market. Regardless, it has been a great investment and more than doubled in value. It’s really near the Tube and has a 50ft garden which is fabulous for parties as I’ve discovered.
What little luxury do you treat yourself to?
I have worn Chanel perfume since my teens. I also love champagne. I am quite happy to spend money on a nice glass of Taittinger.
If you were Chancellor what would you do?
I would get more houses built by requiring councils to prioritise the private development of more homes and slash all the costs relating to planning.
That would create more jobs and make housing cheaper. I think we need to build two million more homes immediately.
We need to get more people into their own homes. Overnight it would revolutionise our country.
What is your number one financial priority?
Most people would say their children, but I’ve never worried about my daughter and I feel I will never need to.
So my number one financial priority is for my husband and I to have a wonderful and comfortable retirement.
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