How did your childhood influence your work ethic and attitude towards money?
Subliminally, I think it must have done. My parents were self-sufficient (we had a smallholding on which we grew our own vegetables, but it was a bit hit and miss), which I think encouraged my entrepreneurial side. There certainly wasn’t a lot of money around when my brother Diccon and I were small, but then as I wasn’t asking for new things, it didn’t seem to matter. I remember getting my first new outfit of clothes when I was about 10. Until then, all my clothes had come from jumble sales. Dad, who was an architect, made doll’s houses and children’s toys to supplement his income.
Although my dad was in the building trade, I didn’t consciously decide to aim for a property career. After I lost my mum, we sold the house and lived in a caravan for a while, while my dad built a new house. So I guess I had been around building sites and we often went to help him when he was surveying houses. My dad never really pushed us to work hard, but as he did, I think we picked up the message ourselves.
Has there been a time in your life when you didn’t know how you were going to pay the bills?
Oh gosh, yes, frequently. I think that is the situation if you are self-employed, and yes, it is still in my life. We have had really difficult times in the past, and I’m sure we will have them in the future, although I hope not as often.
When I bought my first flat, with my brother and my boyfriend (later my husband) Graham some 20 years ago, I was earning £7,000 as a secretary. The tiny flat cost £57,000. We had to really work at getting a deposit together and had a huge mortgage, so it was a struggle to find the money to refurbish it. I had countless jobs before the television career eventually happened. I had a window-cleaning business and then I had a sandwich business, neither of which were very successful. I sold vacuum cleaners for a while. I worked in endless pubs and restaurants as a chambermaid, and at conference centres cleaning lavatories.
Did you plan to get into the media and become a television presenter how did that happen?
That was just being in the right place at the right time. I met a producer at a hen party one day, who listened to me talking about property development by then we’d been in business about 10 years and invited me to audition for Property Ladder. I didn’t think it would last more than one series so it is all a bit of a surprise really…
Do you see being a media personality as important for your businesses?
Certainly it has changed the dynamic of our businesses. MySingleFriend.com was very much because of my experiences of being in the media, and meeting the people I did. I've done a programme about Rise Hall (a building Ms Beeny bought to restore) and it is now a business concern, and I also helped set up Tepilo (a property buying website) so it does help being a media face.
Do you see yourself as a brand?
That is such a difficult word about oneself, because it sounds a bit mad, but I suppose in a way, I do. I wouldn’t, for instance, sign up to a campaign that I didn’t believe in.
Is your own property developing still going on?
Yes, it is. Not in a really big way. We are not building new towns or anything but it still ticks along. We stopped doing quite so much before the housing market peaked. As Graham and I also run the websites, and he paints, plus I have my media career and books, it is very much a juggling act between activities.
Are you more of a saver or a spender?
I am a bit of both. I don’t want to spend money if we don’t have it. I am not a big fan of debt. I would never buy anything on HP (hire purchase). If we do spend it will be on something for the house. I spent a couple of thousand recently on building a tree house for the kids, which was quite a lot, but I knew they would love it.
What was your best business decision or best buy?
Marrying my husband. He is really good at business, and has a clarity of vision that I don’t have. He is a really amazing combination between being a safe pair of hands and being a risk taker. I wouldn’t be where I am today without him.
And what has been your worst business decision?
You could argue that Rise Hall was a bad business decision, but actually it wasn’t really a business decision at the time because we didn’t buy it as a going concern. Yes, it was a millstone of responsibility and took a lot of effort to restore. We bought it wanting to do it, and as it turns out, it has now worked out and is turning out to be a really, really successful business.
Are you naturally good with money or do you have to work at it?
I have to work at it. I like to know how much money is coming in and going out and for many years I did all the accounts for the businesses.
What’s been the most difficult lesson you’ve learnt about money and business?
To remain open minded to change while staying on track with a clear plan. I have lent money to friends, but my father taught me many years ago that if you lend any money, don’t expect it back, and I have lent to friends, and not to disappoint, I didn’t ever get it back! I still get caught out when the tax bill comes in. Even though I know it is coming, it usually precipitates some sort of mini crisis. I guess that is the thing about being self-employed. The money sits in the bank and then you write this big cheque, and you think: “They are stealing my money!”
Do you prefer to pay by debit, credit or cash?
Debit, mainly. I use my credit card if I buy online, or on the phone, or if I am abroad. I bank with Handels, Lloyds and HSBC. I usually get £200 cash out from a cashpoint and hope it lasts a long time.
Do you have a personal pension or a long-term financial strategy?
No, I don’t have a personal pension. The businesses are the strategy. I can’t imagine retiring at all. A pension is for when you retire, isn’t it?
What are your financial priorities for the next five-10 years?
Bringing up my children and paying for their education is the priority, and continuing with the businesses. If we got rid of something then we’d get something else. In a way I think it is time to take less on, so we may sell Rise Hall at some point and buy something else.
Do you meet regularly with a financial adviser?
We changed our accountant in the last couple of years, who is now advising me about business decisions. He is savvier than a regular accountant. We speak on the phone quite a lot, and we meet fairly regularly. If there is a business issue, I would tend to ring him up and ask him his opinion.
Are you a good tipper?
I won’t tip for poor service. So anything from zero if they are not good to maybe 30 per cent if they are amazing. I don’t understand why people tip for bad service there is a principle involved.
Do you invest in stocks and shares?
Over the past six months we have just taken on a stockbroker and are testing the water a little. So far it is going really well. It is something I’ve always wanted to get involved in but I’ve never quite had the nerve.
If there was one thing you could change about the financial world, what would that be?
I would like to see support for intergenerational living, so if the government could offer tax benefits for grandparents looking after their grandchildren, and find ways of supporting families, that would be great.
Do you bank online?
I do bank online and I hate it. I find it a real hassle to get into. I can never remember any of the passwords.
What lessons are you passing on to your children about money?
I’m working hard at teaching them the value of money and how to earn it. I try and tell them how expensive toys are at £50 compared to someone’s wages at the minimum rate. It is hard, but both Graham and I are keen they understand about money from an early age.
Does money make you happy, in your opinion?
I think not having any money makes you very unhappy. Having less than enough money is also very tricky.
Sarah Beeny is helping leading loyalty programme, Nectar, to find the UK’s Savviest Family. Visit nectar.com/savvy for more information or to enter Nectar Savvy Family 2013