TV maths whizz Hannah Fry talks to ME & MY MONEY
Home truths: Hannah Fry, who is renovating her house, says the bills people are facing now would have ruined her when she was younger
Maths professor and TV presenter Hannah Fry has always admired her mother’s frugality, who uses one tea bag for three cups of tea.
But Hannah, 39, who has two young daughters and recently beaten cervical cancer, tells Donna Ferguson that she doesn’t always live up to her mother’s standards.
She recently bought fabric that cost £300 to cover a single cushion. However, she sees the pillows as a trophy of her achievements.
Hannah co-presents The Curious Cases of Rutherford & Fry podcast and presents the BBC Two show The Secret Genius Of Modern Life.
The Future With Hannah Fry, in which Hannah explores the science, technology and people on the cusp of the most profound breakthroughs of our time, can be seen on Bloomberg.com and the Bloomberg app.
What did your parents teach you about money?
They taught me the value of money. Money was insanely tight growing up. I know everyone thinks I’m posh or went to a posh private school, but I didn’t. I come from a very working-class family. My father worked in a factory that made hydraulic lifts for trucks and my mother was a stay-at-home mom. She was 100 percent responsible for the money. I think my father probably got an allowance from her, out of his own pay package.
She took care of the household budget and she takes being frugal to a super power level. It is a hobby of hers to go to different shops and find out which item is threepence cheaper than others. She will use a single tea bag for three cups of tea. It’s absolutely extraordinary.
Have you ever been short of food?
No, we were never to the point where we couldn’t afford to eat. But having new clothes or toys was certainly never really an option.
Are you thrifty yourself?
My mom would say I’m not. When I first started making money, I was very lighthearted in trying to rebel. I remember making £3.33 an hour at my first job, which was in a newsagent on a Saturday, then going to the New Look clothing store and blowing the whole thing up.
I was definitely like this when I was younger. Now that I’m older, I’ve come to see that my mom definitely has a point.
Have you ever had trouble making ends meet?
During my time at university I worked as a cleaner and in restaurants and bars. I didn’t finish my PhD until I was 28, and while doing it I was making £14,000 a year. I had the basics, but not enough for luxury.
I wouldn’t say it was a struggle as I don’t have fancy taste. I am very happy eating a can of diced tomatoes, a few cloves of garlic and some spaghetti. I can live on that.
So I didn’t run out of money – although I would say I know how to sail very close to the wind without actually capsizing. I’m really lucky I’m not in that position anymore. The utility bills people face today would have been so disastrous for me because I didn’t have a backstop like other people around me in college. They could call their parents if they got into financial trouble. My parents didn’t have that money to give.
It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I got my first real job as a university lecturer and started making £30,000 a year, which was great.
What was the best year of your financial life?
Last year. I filmed a lot. I had two TV series: my Bloomberg show, The Future With Hannah Fry, and a BBC Two series called The Secret Genius Of Modern Life. I also did my podcast, The Curious Cases of Rutherford & Fry, and a number of other projects.
I’d rather not say how much I made, but it felt like everything fell into place. For a long time I was a math professor who made documentaries. Last year it felt like I was a documentary filmmaker – who was also a math professor.
What are you splashing about at the moment?
For the past two years I’ve been refurbishing my four-bedroom house, an old Victorian bakery built in 1875 in Greenwich, South East London. When I bought it five years ago it was an absolute ruin.
Recently I really wanted this pillow fabric. I treated myself to two feet and funnily enough it cost about £300 per pillow which is disgusting. That’s like Boris Johnson’s level of spending.
But the thing is, now those pillows are in my living room and every time I see them I think they’re a trophy for what I’ve accomplished. I won’t let anyone else touch them.
What’s the most expensive thing you’ve bought for fun?
A print that I framed and hung in my office. I bought it in 2021 for around £700 when I was completely cancer free.
I was diagnosed with cervical cancer when I was 36. And I was lucky. I overcame it.
The print reminds me of that. It has this kind of feminine energy, with pink smoke, and what looks like nuclear strikes in the sky.
Host: Hannah in the BBC Two show The Secret Genius Of Modern Life
What’s your biggest money mistake?
Not retiring when I was younger. At the time, it felt like such a significant amount to put aside each month and I lived on buttons.
But I think people underestimate the impact of compound interest. I hadn’t considered how setting aside even a small amount can grow. It’s going to cost me so much money to catch up, now that I’m 39.
When did you start saving for retirement?
Any day now, I’m going to start. Meanwhile, I spent it all on pillows and fabric prints.
No, I’m kidding… I have a really, really small university pension. And saving for a private retirement is a big priority for me going forward.
The best money decision you’ve made?
My husband and I bought a house in West London in 2011. When we sold it in 2016, it had almost doubled in value.
Do you invest directly on the stock market?
Yes. I have some shares in ethically responsible companies packaged in Isas for me and my kids. I think it would be ironic if I chose to actively divest from my children’s future, funding companies that are destroying the world.
What’s the one little luxury you treat yourself to?
I have Freddie’s Flowers delivered every week. Spending around £100 a month on fresh flowers is a bit extravagant and of course my mum hates it.
But I think it really makes a difference to your home.
If you were Chancellor, what would you do first?
I would think very seriously about introducing a universal basic income, because I think that’s a policy that unites both the left and the right. I think there are a lot of good arguments for it.
I also think we should not live in a world where people in modern Britain are unable to feed themselves or heat their homes. I think that is morally bankrupt of us.
Do you donate money to charity?
Yes. I donate to the Shelter homeless charity and I support my local food banks. I don’t understand how we can consider ourselves a civilized nation if we let people sleep on the street. I do not feel like it.
What is your first financial priority?
To get through the renovation of my house and then focus on saving, starting with a private pension. So it fills the treasury.
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