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Personal Finance

Joe Coten sends us another missive on life in rural France where he and his family are now resident, and offers some early year financial advice


hristmas, now a fading memory, was a most pleasant affair here in Gironde. Friends from the UK, Graham and his

wife came to visit for a week, accompanied by Carol, Graham’s cousin, who traditionally spends Christmas with them. This year that meant spending it with us too. I mostly resisted the temptation of

Pooteresque jokes regarding Christmas Carol but it was admittedly a struggle. It became apparent that Carol’s world has not been her oyster, when she took her knife and fork to the said mollusc on her plate and attempted to slice her way vertically through the shell. Full marks for improvisation as well as entertainment were awarded before a lesson in how to open the shell was given. Having tasted the oyster, Carol wished she hadn’t, having been deterred by its salty sliminess. We reassured her we weren’t offended in the slightest by this rebuff to our entrée on the basis there would be more to go round for the rest of us.

In a village without a café the boulangerie next door has taken over as the local centre of socialising and gossip. As well as regaling us with their excellent bread and croissants, the smell wafting over our garden wall in the early hours of the morning, the patron and his wife have taken us under their wing. When I pop in for our daily baguette they make a point of introducing us to fellow villagers, many of whom are growers. From the locals’ point of view we must hold a certain curiosity value, as we are the only English family in the village itself. It is not unusual therefore, this being a wine- growing area, for me to be offered a glass of sweet white first thing in the morning with a croissant. I’d thought the Entre Deux Mers appellation, where we are, only produced bone dry whites, but it turns out the local

growers make all types of wine, and it has to be said, to a very high standard. If it’s red however they call it Bordeaux or Bordeaux Superieur, and if sweet, it’s known as Cotes de Bordeaux St Macaire. They also make a passably good fizz, the Cremant de Bordeaux.

So, a few weeks ago, I thought for a moment I was having my leg pulled next door when M Larroze, a supplier of corks and similar consumables to the local growers, recommended a nearby chateau. He suggested I ask the vigneron for a taste of his highly-regarded water. “A small glass of water” translates as “un petit verre d’eau”, but phonically as petit verdot, a grape variety. Who says the French don’t go in for puns!

Speaking of alcohol one major difference we’ve noticed here is the random breathalysing binge the gendarmerie goes in for most Saturday nights. Having driven for more than 40 years in the UK without once having been tested, being stopped twice in as many months has been doubly surprising. A friend told us about a bit of “luck” an English friend of his had a while ago. On his way home after a dinner at friends the car was pulled over and the gendarme asked the chap’s wife to blow into the bag. She hadn’t touched a drop so the test was clear and so they were waved on their way. The gendarme however had failed to notice the lack of steering wheel when speaking to the lady, this due to it being an English car, and that the lady in question was therefore sitting in the passenger seat. Hubby had indeed had a few after dinner brandies, so he might not have fared so well had he been tested! “Luck” in inverted commas above by the way denotes my total disapproval of drink-driving.

Rather than indulging in more tales from deepest Aquitaine, some comments about financial planning


would seem appropriate in the context of an article on the subject. The stagnancy of the FTSE before Christmas has given way to an upward surge following the end of year drama in the US. The drop off the fiscal cliff was avoided and this has given rise to a general optimism, which has not been dampened by the gargantuan debt still lurking in the global financial system. We have seen markets rise by almost 10% in just a month or two, as I write, and there is even talk of a rise in interest rates. This of course would be welcome news for savers! As is my custom at this time of

year, I encourage you to make sure you make full use of annual tax allowances. Shares that have done well can be sold to make use of your CGT allowance, or can be transferred into an ISA. Your annual inheritance tax allowance can be carried forward from last tax year if unused. A couple in this situation could give away to children or grandchildren £24,000 before 5th April and save £9,600 in tax. The annual pension allowance will reduce from £50,000 to £40,000 on 5th April 2014, so if you have catching up to do on the pension front, it is worth reviewing your planning in this area sooner rather than later. Also announced in the Chancellor’s autumn statement is the upward revision of the pension drawdown maximum income from 100% to 120%, scheduled for 26th March. If you are intending to strip as much income from your pension fund as possible and are currently unable to make use of capped drawdown, it is worth checking your fund’s review date.

Joe Coten

is a member of the Personal Finance Society.

He may be reached on 0207 588 9626.

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