How to protect what matters to you: a money guide from Jasmine Birtles

Jasmine Birtles

Jasmine Birtles is a financial journalist, author and presenter, and the founder of money tips website, moneymagpie.com

From the value of your home to your pension, there are lots of practical ways to protect the things that matter most to you. Having the right information to hand is often vital. We asked finance expert Jasmine Birtles for her tips to make the most of what you’ve worked hard for.

So find out how to…

Right now there’s about £20bn languishing in ‘lost’ pension pots around the country, equating to £13,000 per pot, according to the Association of British Insurers (ABI)1. You could be missing out on some handy cash for your retirement if one of those pots is yours!

These ‘lost’ pots happen because people move jobs and lose track over time. You could find them with help from the government’s Pensions Tracing Service, which holds contact details for workplace or personal pension schemes. You can also get more detailed help and advice from the Pensions Advisory Service.

Generally, though, try to keep records of all your pensions and investments. I find it’s handy to have a well-organised, secure file for all your important documents – one for physical paperwork (I like a good old indexed lever arch file) and one on your computer. Taking a few minutes to file things properly is a small chore that will save you time and hassle later on!

First, make sure your savings protect your short-term needs. Work out roughly how much you need to keep the roof over your head each month and aim towards putting several times that amount into a savings account that you can access easily. That way if you ever lose your income suddenly you can cover your bills for a few months until you get back on your feet. Aim for three months as a minimum, but I like to have a buffer of about six months.

Once you’ve protected your immediate needs it’s time to think more about medium and long-term goals, and consider investing. This can have a higher risk, but a higher potential reward too.

If you’re relatively young your investment has longer to grow. That can mean you might be more open to risk, because over time the ups and downs of riskier investments (like the stock market) tend to smooth out. As you near retirement you might want less risk, and may look for products that give you a decent, regular income instead. It’s worth reading up on Risk Versus Reward to help with this.

Ultimately, investment decisions should always be based on what’s right for you. The more you know, the more confident you’ll be making those decisions. You can find more handy information on our "New to Investing" page – it can really help you think about what’s right for you. Independent advice is often useful too – VouchedFor.co.uk is handy for researching advisers.

If you like a quiz, try What Kind of Investor Are You?

Whether saving or investing, keep in mind that even small amounts can add up. Work out how much you could comfortably afford each month and set up standing orders to go out as soon as you get your salary – I always like to have this covered before I go out and spend my money on other things!

It can be tough to get onto the property ladder, but by working together families can help the younger generation buy their first home and also potentially reduce tax for their parents or grandparents.

For a start, the older generation can gift money to help with a deposit. This means that they reduce their potential Inheritance Tax (IHT) liability and their children get some of their inheritance early to invest in property. You should read up on the rules around IHT and gifts first.

Of course, not everyone can afford to just give money away, advice is valuable too. If you can’t help financially, you could still help with tips for saving for a deposit, or by helping to research sources of financial support. Help to Buy schemes are a good place to start.

Remember too that we’re living longer than ever and parents and grandparents do need to keep their own future needs in mind. It’s worth talking openly as a family about these things – and often wise to get advice before being too generous!

You can’t control all property market forces, but there are always ways you can keep your home attractive to buyers and protect its value.

For a start, simply keeping it well maintained is vital. Mend the roof, pipes and walls where needed and deal with mould or leaks quickly. Keeping it clean and tidy and even making sure the garden looks well-kept all help properties sell well, too. It could make a surprisingly big difference: a bark.com survey2 last year reported that an overgrown garden could devalue a property by as much as 20%. It also suggested that adding an off-road parking space could boost value by up to 10% - worth thinking about!

Energy efficiency is often attractive to buyers too, so consider upgrading your boiler, installing draft exclusion devices and cavity wall insulation. You can find advice on energy efficiency from Home Energy Scotland. In some circumstances, you might be able to access financial support.

The area where you live can also make a big difference, so it could be a good idea to start a Neighbourhood Watch scheme, if there isn’t one already, and encourage other positive community activities.

Also, be careful about adding things that could reduce the value of your home. A badly-built conservatory can make a property less attractive to buyers, as can painting it in a garish colour. Check with local estate agents first if you’re unsure.

Being defrauded is an awful feeling. I know, I suffered identity theft myself a few years ago!

Depending on the type of fraud you should also call your bank/credit card providers as soon as possible in case they need to block any further unauthorised transactions. And report it to Police Scotland.

You should also think about resetting all your passwords, particularly if you were defrauded online. In fact, it could be a good opportunity to set up more secure ones.

Something else you could consider is to order a copy of your credit report, and file a fraud alert - there are a number of credit reference agencies that offer this service including Equifax, Experian and TransUnion (formerly Callcredit). You could also consider doing what I did and sign up to one or more of these companies who offer a paid-for credit alert service, that helps you monitor any suspicious activity, like if someone applies for a credit card in your name. There are other options too - like signing up to the Protective Registration service provided by not-for-profit organisation, CIFAs. These services do come with a fee which I personally felt was worth doing for 12 months after I was defrauded. Check them out to see if you do too.

Talking to your friends and family about it may also help. It’s a good opportunity for them to learn from what happened to you, and hopefully prevent the same thing happening to them. But more than that, it’s a stressful experience and a bit of moral support goes a long way!

Read more about how to protect yourself from fraud.