I'm aware that there are a lot of financially unsophisticated folk out there. But I am shocked by the results of a survey being published today that reveals that one in four people hope to improve their financial situation by winning the lottery. Now, I'm no Lotto-basher. It gives a lot of people a bit of fun and most are well aware they will never get that big win, especially with the 14 million-to-one odds. But while it's nice to dream, spending a pound on a lottery is not being financially astute.
The survey is being published in conjunction with Financial Planning Week, which starts on Monday and runs until Sunday 13 September. The research also reveals, unsurprisingly, that only one in five people are currently satisfied with their financial position. In fact I'm surprised that 20 per cent of people say they are satisfied?
But I am surprised at another figure thrown up by the research: despite four-fifths of people admitting to not being in control of their finances, only one in 20 says they will seek professional help to improve things. I can understand people being put off by the perceived cost of expert advice – it starts at around £150 an hour – but the expense could soon be outweighed by the benefits.
Of course, for the millions who can't afford £150 for some advice, the point may seem a moot one, but there is free financial help out there. At the consumer website www.cashquestions.com, for instance, there are a number of experts answering readers' questions for nothing. At www.financialplanningweek.org.uk there is a wealth of advice put together by the Institute of Financial Planning (IFP). There's also a Facebook site link where people can put questions to experts.
"There seems to be a myth that financial planning is just for the wealthy, or that professional help is expensive, which is why we run Financial Planning Week each year," says Nick Cann of the IFP. "We are aiming to change perceptions of financial planning by offering free, impartial advice to people at all stages of life through our website – showing how applying just a few simple steps can make a huge difference."
I'm in favour of the concept of financial planning as it is far removed from the old-style, unprincipled financial adviser, who would try to flog you unnecessary insurance. Instead, it is about working out your goals and whether you can achieve them and normally begins with making a budget and looking at ways to cut costs long before touching on investments or savings.
This seems sensible to me. And is a lesson to take from Financial Planning Week for folk who don't want to – or can't afford to go to – a professional adviser. Planning is the key to financial success and you can make your own plans, starting with calculations of where you spend money and how you can save some. That is a simple first step that anyone should be able to master. And is one which could lead to getting complete control of your finances rather than crossing your fingers and trusting to luck.