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

The Daily Telegraph - Your Money - - Fame And Fortune -

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

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