Sensible star calls the shots
Former British No 1 women’s tennis player Annabel Croft has been self-employed since the age of 12. Here she tells Mark Anstead how her upbringing helped shape her ‘Captain Sensible’ attitude to money
Annabel Croft will be commentating on the US Open which begins at Flushing Meadows, New York, on Monday. She is married to Mel Coleman, an investment banker, and they live near Wimbledon with their three children, Amber, 13, Charlie, 11, and Lily, 9. How would you say your childhood influenced your attitude to the financial facts of life? My father was a chartered surveyor and I spent a lot of my time with him in the car while he ferried me between school and tennis training at Queen’s College in London. We talked a lot about business, finances and property. He got a pension going for me when I was 16. How did that influence the way you approach money? I was Captain Sensible from a very young age. I have been self-employed from the age of 12, when I started winning tennis matches, and as soon as I became aware of earning money I became tuned into it. But I never had time to enjoy spending it because I was always so busy playing tennis. Whenever I went on tour I was constantly shelling out for hotels and food and I used to get uptight because I could see money going out and I knew I had to win matches to get it in again. Did anyone advise you about handling money? Nothing really got through to me until I started to do my own Value Added Tax (VAT) every quarter. It used to be something I handed to the accountant, but when I was in my 20s, a girlfriend spent the best part of two days showing me how to do it. It was the best thing that ever happened to me.
I think we live in an incredibly expensive country. When it comes to food, it feels like I am going to the shops and spending £200, but it only lasts a few days. I don’t know how everybody manages to keep up with the lifestyle, especially if you pay for private schools. Did that motivate you to be cautious? I think being freelance makes you curb spending. You might get a big lump sum of money for a short period, and then nothing for a while after that. You have to put aside money for tax, too. Are you a saver or a spender? I started saving into personal equity plans (PEPs) and individual savings accounts (ISAs) years ago when the children were first born to try and help with school fees. Education is very expensive, but it’s probably the best thing you can give your child. If you can afford to pay privately, you should. Then you’re not clogging up the system. Other than that, we put any extra money during the month into a high interest account. How do you share separate responsibility for finance with Mel? He takes a stronger role. He handles all the money transfers and when tax bills have to be paid, he’ll make sure we move the money across. We keep our income separate but we view everything as a partnership. I have a personal account and we have a joint account as well. We have the same financial outlook. Mel had a similar lifestyle to me before we met, when he was travelling around as a yachtsman, racing. Have you learned any difficult lessons about money by mistake? We bought a second property in 1988, a three-bedroom semi-detached house in Fareham, Hampshire, for £70,000. I spent weeks doing the place up, but we bought at the top of the market just before it crashed. Two years later, we managed to sell it roughly at the same price, but when you take into account the sale fees and the money we spent on improvements, we definitely lost. How important is your pension to your financial planning? I used to have a sports pension and then it got transferred into a personal pension, but I am very angry about the situation. Gordon Brown has secured MPs’ pensions but the rest of us are in trouble. At one point mine was looking quite healthy because I started when I was so very young. Now I still contribute, but not much. My father is seething, because of all the years he put money aside and it has not worked out the way he expected it to. I don’t know why I’m still putting anything in. What do you hate about dealing with money? I try not to get involved in negotiating contracts for my TV work. I don’t like discussing money unless it’s something where I’m fully aware of what the fee should be. More often than not, I will leave it for an agent to do because I find it embarrassing. What is the secret of making money? Doing something you really enjoy. But I think you also need a sense of curiosity. I don’t turn many opportunities down.
Over the years we seem to have made more money from property then anything else. The advice I give young people is to really stretch your mortgage and borrow as much as you can afford to. If Mel and I had stayed put in our first flat in Wimbledon we might have paid the mortgage off and still be there today. As it happens we kept climbing the ladder. How do you prefer to pay: cash, card or cheque? I use credit cards as little as possible – I prefer to pay using Switch or Maestro. I only use credit when I’m abroad. My debit card is a Coutts card and I have a NatWest MasterCard, but I still write a lot of cheques for the children’s music lessons, gym and sports. How do you tip? Are you an easy tipper? No, people have to work hard for me. I like charm, it’s one of the most important things in life. I like to talk to people who work in restaurants because they are usually fascinating, but if there is any rudeness or failure in the service then they won’t get a tip. I generally leave 15pc. What’s been your greatest extravagance? We put a tennis court into our grounds, which cost us £15,000. Have you ever invested in shares? Mel looks after that and there was a time when he got quite active, trading on the internet. We have some very safe longterm investments as well – I have British Airways and Thames Utilities and I just hang on to them and take the dividends. Each year we used to put the maximum amount into ISAs, but four or five years ago we stopped when the market crashed. Do you bank online? No, but Mel does. I have done it when I’ve needed to cross-reference something for my VAT, but I like seeing it on paper. Have you ever been in debt? We very rarely go overdrawn. Taking responsibility early in my childhood made me avoid it and tennis instilled in me such a discipline, it carried over into every other aspect of my character. Do you use a financial adviser? Yes, but we don’t talk to him very often. We spoke to him to remortgage and we managed to get a fix on it at 4.95pc, days before they withdrew the offer. We had a fixed rate and we found ourselves coming out of it at the wrong time. What do you spend money on for fun? There’s never very much money left over after school fees, but my biggest joy is going to the theatre. We do one trip a year at Christmas time. I took Amber to see Dirty Dancing for her birthday with two friends and the enjoyment they get out of it is worth every penny. Annabel Croft is an ambassador for the Aristoc Ultra Woman campaign. www. aristocultrawoman.co.uk
Winning formula: ‘Tennis instilled in me such a discipline, it carried over into every other aspect of my character,’ says Annabel Croft