Your money

14th September 2001 at 01:00
Sean Coughlan is ready to figure out your finances in a new fortnightly column

We all want more of it. We've all got strong feelings about it. We might even feel guilty about it. And we don't always find it easy to talk about it.

I'm talking about money, of course. We have to deal with money every day, but that doesn't mean we understand how it works. We might be passably intelligent and capable in the rest of our lives, but money can remain an intimidating, jargon-ridden swamp, dragging hard-earned cash into the quicksand of interest rates and charges. Even if information is available, it's not always written in a way that makes sense.

For many years, banks and insurers behaved like authoritarian headteachers who didn't have to explain themselves to anyone - and they're still far from being natural communicators. So when we want to know which account to choose or which credit card to use, there is often a lack of simple advice. And so we close our eyes and jump - and then spend years paying the price for a wrong decision. And even though we know that money is important, it doesn't necessarily make it interesting.

Pensions, for example, we all know, are A Big Deal. Without a pension we'll be spending our old age like the losers with the bad teeth in Oliver Twist. But I defy anyone to read the explanatory notes of a pension without feeling as if their head is slowly being filled with concrete. Again, we might only discover a bad money decision after it's too late.

You might have bought travel insurance as an add-on to a package holiday, but when something is stolen or you need to make a claim, you might find the policy has less cover than a string bikini. By which point, the insurers have your money, a light-fingered local has your digital camera, and you're stuck with a load of small print that means you get nothing back.

Money mistakes are not just expensive; they can have an emotional price as well. Debt counsellors and relationship experts say that money is the biggest single cause of friction between couples. This isn't just falling out over the weekly budget. Money is about status, identity, independence and ambition. It's a symbol of trust and sharing - or a war zone for crumbling relationships. How you want to spend or save your money is interwoven with how you want to live your life.

So, what can we do to make life easier for ourselves on the financial front? This column is intended to be a way of airing some of the concerns over money, and tackling some of the everyday financial decisions that we all have to make. It's not going to be a trainspotter's guide to personal finance, with all kinds of percentages and intricate advice. Instead, it is a chance to look at important cash questions in an accessible and useful manner.

To make it work, we need to address the issues that concern you most. All contributions for ideas for discussion will be gratefully received (use my email address printed at the end of this column).

This does not mean answering details of individual cases, it means looking at the big issues - borrowing, saving, insuring, pensions, and so on - and providing as much useful information as possible. Let me know what aspect of money most annoys, intrigues or confuses you (apart from the lack of it), and what you would like to have investigated.

s.coughlan@virgin.net

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