First home: Charlene’s best decision was to buy a flat in London
TV presenter Charlene White racked up credit card debt for a decade by spending frivolously on items she didn’t need.
The 40-year-old news anchor and Loose Women presenter told DONNA FERGUSON she only managed to pay it off in her mid-30s after she met her partner Andy, 41.
The couple have two children: Alfie, three, and one-year-old Florence.
What did your parents teach you about money?
To work hard for it and prioritise education. My mum was a social worker and a foster mother who worked in children’s homes at weekends. My dad was a postman who also ran his own driving school business.
They would both leave for work at 5.30 each morning and Dad would come home at 9.45 in the evening.
They paid for me and my siblings to go to a private school because when Mum first moved over here from Jamaica, she didn’t have a great experience with the state school system. Her teachers told her she would never amount to much. She wasn’t encouraged to aspire and fulfil her potential, and she wanted to make sure her own children weren’t treated that way.
Both my parents wanted me to have the best possible start in life and that’s why they worked so hard.
I never went on expensive holidays or wore designer clothes like the other girls at my school. I remember being devastated when I didn’t get a pair of Doc Martens for Christmas.
My parents spent their money on education, not on what they saw as non-essential items. Once, I bought a pair of Levi jeans from a friend and Dad hit the roof.
Have you ever struggled to make ends meet?
Yes, when I was in my mid-20s I wasn’t great with money and started spending on credit cards. I had two cards and I maxed them out quickly. But I would get my credit limit raised and keep spending. Sometimes I would only pay the minimum amount in repayments.
This went on for years. It was bad. It got to the stage where I would ignore the bills coming through the door. I just wouldn’t open them. The letters would pile up and I’d hide them. It was really awful.
Have you now paid off all your credit card debt?
Yes. I started dating Andy in my mid-30s and we were thinking about buying a property together and linking our finances. I had to admit that I had credit card debt. He basically forced me to work out a plan to pay off the cards. That was probably a good ten years after I first took out a credit card. I paid them all off before we invested in a house together. Since then, I have never used a credit card.
I wish I had been taught about money at school. Caribbean families tend not to talk about money and I’ve had to learn some valuable but uncomfortable lessons as an adult.
Have you ever been paid silly money?
Yes. The silliest occasion was about ten years ago. A man was throwing a surprise birthday party for his wife in a posh hotel and wanted me to turn up and interview her on stage for half an hour. He paid me £700.
I remember getting the email and thinking it was a joke. I got glammed up and turned up on stage to talk to his wife who was in a state of shock in a room full of 300 of their close friends. I left half an hour later thinking, ‘That was weird, but so much fun.’
What has been the best financial year of your life?
It was 2019. I tend to earn around the same amount from my day-job most years, but that year I did a lot of corporate work hosting events. I did it because I was keen to save up a bit of extra money for our new house. I’d rather not say how much I earned but it allowed us to buy our current home, a four-bedroom semi-detached house in West London.
What is your biggest money mistake?
Running up all that credit card debt. I was buying really silly things like shoes, going out clubbing and buying a round of drinks for people when I didn’t need to. I was spending money that wasn’t mine in order to enjoy myself.
The best money decision you have made?
Buying my first flat, a two-bedroom maisonette in Blackheath, South East London, for £163,000 in 2005. I was 24. I only managed it because you didn’t need a deposit in those days – you could take out a 100 per cent mortgage and that’s what I did. I took in a lodger to help me pay the mortgage.
It was the most sensible financial decision I have ever made. If I hadn’t bought bricks and mortar I would have continued spending money and had absolutely nothing to show for all my hard work. And without that flat, I wouldn’t have been able to buy my family home later on down the line.
I sold it in 2018 for £495,000 – nearly treble what I’d paid for it.
Do you save into a pension?
Yes, I pay into my workplace scheme. I began contributing to my pension when I got my first job at the BBC at 24 and I’ve continued to do so ever since. With pensions, the earlier you start the better. You might think you’ll be young forever, but you’re not.
I don’t invest in stocks and shares outside of my pension. I don’t understand the stock market. I wish I did. Perhaps some day I will learn, but at the moment I just can’t be bothered.
What is the one luxury you treat yourself to?
It’s a £150 facial. I’ll lie there for two hours. Sometimes it’s so relaxing I fall asleep. Afterwards, I feel so fabulous and pampered.
Normally, I treat myself twice a year. It’s something I badly missed during lockdown.
If you were Chancellor, what would you do?
I’d give all the frontline workers a juicy bonus in their pay packet to celebrate the wonderful work they have been doing over the past 14 months – and to say a great big thank you.
These people have been risking their lives so that the rest of us could stay safe. We forget just how scary that first pandemic wave was and how many people still had to get up each morning and go to work feeling that fear.
Do you donate money to charity?
I do. My mum died from bowel cancer so I’m a patron of Bowel Cancer UK and donate my money and time to them.
What is your number one financial priority?
Before I had children it would have been to have as much fun as possible. Now, my financial priority is making sure my children are safe and happy and I have something to pass on to them.
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