The actress and comedian Juliet Cowan sold her house after panicking when her mortgage deal ended and her home loan payments doubled overnight.
Cowan, who recently starred in the hit BBC shows Everything I Know About Love and Back To Life, tells Donna Ferguson the worst decision she ever made was getting off the property ladder. She now rents a three-bedroom house in West London with her two daughters, aged 22 and 15, two cats and a dog.
She is taking her stand-up show ‘F*** Off And Leave Me Alone’ to the Bush Theatre, West London, later this year.
What did your parents teach you about money?
That it is possible to live a full life and have children without knowing where your next year’s income will come from. My dad found shipwrecks for a living, which is not a steady job. My mum used to do all the research for him, so she didn’t have a regular job either.
Their work was really fun, but their income went up and down. They relied on finding and selling items found on the wrecks – they were allowed to keep a proportion of the proceeds.
My dad used to say ‘I’m just about to go bankrupt’ all the time – but he never did and they found shipwrecks off the Isles of Scilly and Holland. There were times we would have our phone cut off or we couldn’t go on school trips.
As an actor, my income fluctuates and, like my parents, I have experienced periods of feast and famine. But my parents taught me that you can make your own life up and that has helped me to deal with it.
Have you ever struggled to make ends meet?
Yes. About ten years ago, my mortgage payments doubled overnight because my fixed-rate deal came to an end. I didn’t realise that all you had to do was phone up the mortgage company and say, ‘Can I go on to another agreement?’ and then the payments would drop back again. So I struggled for about six months, borrowing money, really freaking out.
It was awful. I was so scared. For months, I had sleepless nights and anxious days. Then somebody told me I should call up my lender and ask for a new mortgage. By that time, I had paid around £6,000 in extra interest payments. My lender probably sent me a message about remortgaging that I didn’t open. I think I’m very bad at managing my day-to-day finances.
Have you ever been paid silly money?
Yes. In my line of work, you might spend months earning nothing and then do a voice-over for an advert, which takes an hour and pays a few thousand pounds. It feels like wandering through a desert and seeing an oasis. I once got a lucrative year-long contract to do adverts for Boots and was paid enough for our whole family to live on for a year. Getting that contract was such a relief.
What was the best year of your financial life?
The last year. As well as my new stand-up comedy show about the similarities and differences between middle-aged women and teenage girls, I’ve been working on a lot of exciting TV programmes, including two BBC comedy shows, Am I Being Unreasonable? and Stuck, and a new drama for Amazon Prime called The Power. I’d rather not say how much I’ve earned, but it’s enough so I haven’t had to worry about money over the year.
What is the most expensive thing you bought for fun?
A beautiful, double-breasted Vivienne Westwood black wool coat for £1,000, eight years ago. I wanted a coat I could have forever and that, when I died, people would smell to be reminded of me.
What is your biggest money mistake?
Selling my house nine years ago. I became so panicked by my mortgage payments doubling overnight that I decided to sell up and downsize. And then I was so admin-phobic that I just couldn’t cope with getting a mortgage for somewhere else. I am now renting a three-bedroom house, which I think is a terrible move on my part.
Busy: Juliet has been working on a lot of TV programmes, including two BBC comedy shows, Am I Being Unreasonable? and Stuck (pictured)
The best money decision you have made?
Having my three children. It has inspired me to work really hard and be ambitious. It turned me from a dreamy girl, wondering where her life would go, into someone who lickety-split gets up and gets things done.
Do you save into a pension or invest in the stock market?
I’ve got a pension through Equity, the actors’ union. I only started saving into it when I was 38, so it’s probably not worth very much. I don’t invest in the stock market. I am not mad keen on taking part in that kind of a lottery.
Do you own any property?
I’ve got a coat. Otherwise, no. But I’m working out how much I can borrow on a mortgage and getting a deposit together. I’d like to buy where I rent, in West London, but I can’t afford to, so I’ll probably buy further west or north-west.
What is the one little luxury you treat yourself to?
Perfume. I wear Molecules, which is a perfume that smells differently on everybody who wears it. I like the thought of people smelling it and thinking of me. A bottle costs £72 and lasts me for over a year.
If you were Chancellor, what would you do?
I would make sure that everybody can afford their energy bills. Light and warmth is a basic human need. I can’t imagine Liz Truss is doing enough and I don’t doubt people will die this winter.
What is your number one financial priority?
Getting the money together to buy a house. That is what I’m working towards and I feel very excited about the future.
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