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Personal Finance

Joe Coten introduces us to life in rural south western France and gives us some ideas on secure investment in the current climate of growing doom and gloom

Joe Coten

is a member of the Personal Finance Society.

He may be reached on 0207 588 9626.


pril has indeed been a cruel month here in the Gironde. The weather has been relentlessly damp, grey and chilly with

the rain a daily and unwelcome visitor. Similar to Barbican weather from what we have heard and not at all what we were expecting. On the plus side the asparagus has been both plentiful and wonderful and we have been at it for a matter of weeks now, the steamed white spears duly anointed with homemade mayonnaise comprising mild Dijon mustard whipped into olive oil. A haze of asparagus vapour hangs in most parts of the house in fact. After tasting the local butcher’s cassoulet I decided that there was nothing else for it but to make up an industrial batch of the stuff myself. Very good it is too, if I may tear off the cloak of false modesty, bearing little resemblance to our neighbour’s tinned butterbeans in ketchup with a duck leg perched on top. I had a half a mind to pop over with a Tupperware container for him to taste my version, then hopefully emulate it but it probably wouldn’t have done a great deal for Anglo-French relations. However it is handy to have somewhere close by that takes in deliveries for us when we’re out, so discretion was the better part of valour in this instance.

And now for some top notch advice for those who like to holiday in France. Whilst at the supermarché replenishing the larder of your gite, keep an eye on the board where you find the small ads and local what’s on notices. We spotted a lunch do described as a “repas des chasseurs” hosted by the local hunting club. Although the only Angliches present, we were made to feel most welcome and the club chairman insisted we sit at his table in the packed village hall. We arrived punctually at 12.30 and many courses later made our polite excuses and waddled off at 6pm, using our little one’s bedtime as an alibi to excuse our not staying on for the


evening session! In between time we were treated to generous portions of homemade tomato soup, salade landaise (foie gras, smoked magret, tomatoes, lettuce, croutons etc), venison in red wine sauce, barbecued venison, exquisitely pink on the inside roti de boeuf, salade, cheese, dessert, coffee and above all convivialité. The above needless to say was washed down with plenty of local wine and a glass or two of Armagnac and all for not very much money!

So returning to London in mid-May for 10 days was something of a culture shock after several weeks in rural France. The weather kept up its dismalness, however it was good fun catching up with Barbican friends and relatives and returning to familiar territory. The Barbican Independents Group, or BIGs for short, which normally holds a monthly breakfast meeting, held an ad hoc coffee morning, with our youngest as guest of honour; a case of it being a small BIGs meeting on this occasion. The main questions I was being

asked when on and off duty were about investment ideas in the current climate of doom and gloom. Gold has lost its shine of late and property could well be about to go over the cliff along with the global economy. Stockmarkets too have been trending unsteadily downwards and cash is worse than hopeless, not even keeping pace with inflation with current interest rates. One positive thing you should do is

to make use of the new allowances that have become available at the start of the new tax year. All of the points I mentioned in my previous article regarding capital gains, ISAs amongst other things remain just as relevant and you can usefully revisit these topics. We now even have Junior ISAs for the smaller investor! The least you can do is to maximise your tax efficiency. But beyond that, the question goes, where best to put your savings with the markets in a constant state of turmoil?

When the going gets tough and only

uncertainty is certain, my thought is always that it pays to err on the side of certainty. What I mean by this is that, on the personal level, repayment of debt should be the priority. You have a pretty clear idea of what you are saving in interest if you repay a mortgage or similar loan. Investment by definition takes you into the realm of uncertainty. Bearing in mind the debt is being repaid with taxed income, the idea of reducing debt becomes even more enticing. This advice is of course of no benefit if you have repaid your mortgage and are generally free of debt. If you do have funds available, equity investment still represents an unprecedented opportunity. When everyone is selling, things are cheap. UK high yielding stocks if carefully chosen could do very well over the medium to long term, and all things being equal should continue paying reasonable dividends. Yields are now looking very attractive.

A separate planning question that arises periodically surrounds residence and domicile in the UK. As the Barbican is a cosmopolitan milieu, I come across residents with all sorts of chequered backgrounds. You may think that if you only spend a month or two in the UK you are beyond the reach of the taxman’s net. But this can be a very complex area, and can vary surprisingly from one type of tax to another. If there is any doubt as to your position I strongly recommend that you take advice. In cases involving UK tax law I am happy to help but where there is more than one jurisdiction involved, I am equally happy to refer cases to specialists as relevant.

Although not a betting man, I’d wager that when the time comes for us to spend 2 days in the car next week on our way back to London again the weather will be roasting, just as it was the week before last on our recent trip!

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