Bold: Laura Bingham with her husband Ed Stafford
Laura Bingham was once so poor she slept in a shed. Now the 29-year-old explorer, who led South America’s first-ever Essequibo River descent and crossed the Atlantic in a 38ft trimaran, is commanding a speaking fee of up to £5,000 per day and lives in a £2m category. II listed house in Leicestershire.
But she misses her time in the jungle so much, she tells Donna Ferguson, that she’s filled her home with 150 houseplants and a menagerie of animals. She is married to fellow explorer Ed Stafford, 47, and they have three children: five-year-old Ranulph and one-year-old twins Molly and Milly.
Her beautifully illustrated children’s book about her exploration of the world, Lands Of Courage, has just been released.
What did your parents teach you about money?
Work hard for it. There wasn’t a lot of money when I was a kid. My mother was a cleaner, my father a painter and decorator and we lived in a former town hall. But my parents made sure that we had a good holiday and I never lacked for anything.
Have you ever struggled to make ends meet?
Yes. There was a time, in my early twenties, when I couldn’t pay my rent. Indeed, I was homeless and ended up sleeping in a shed.
I was living in London with my boyfriend who then separated from me very suddenly. I was working two jobs at the time – in a clothes shop and a pub – but I couldn’t pay the £800-a-month rent on my own, so I had to leave the property. And I had nowhere to go.
It was winter and cold – but there was a small shed in the garden. So I hid my suitcase there and sneaked out after dark and slept on a chair. Every few days I stayed in a hostel and took a shower.
I used the money I had saved on rent to move to Spain and become an au pair. To this day, the person who moved in after me doesn’t know that I slept in that cabin.
Have you ever been paid stupid money?
About three years ago I was paid £10,000 by drinks maker Metaxa for two days of work. They took me to Belgium for a one-day photo and film shoot, then to Greece where I did a day of press interviews. I felt like a movie star.
Computer games giant Playstation also paid me £6,500 for a day of my time recently. I participated in a round table during the launch of one of his games.
What was the best year of your financial life?
It was 2018, the year I went on an expedition to locate the source of the Essequibo River in Guyana. Then, I worked a lot for different brands and I was involved in many marketing campaigns, especially on social networks, which made me earn a lot of money.
The most expensive thing you bought for fun?
I once spent £75 on a houseplant leaf. It came with some roots, but I had to grow those roots, propagate them, and plant them.
It is a rare plant called Variegated Monstera. He now has three leaves and if he gets to 1.80m tall I can sell him for £4,000. So it’s an investment. Or at least that’s how I justified the purchase from my husband.
I have over 150 indoor plants at home. I hate living in a sterile environment where there is no greenery or oxygen. It suffocates me. I really liked the jungle. I miss it.
What is your biggest financial mistake?
I bought a used Jaguar that was selling below its market price. Thought I was very smart when I bought it for £1500. Two weeks later the car died on me.
I also paid £1000 for a horse when we were going into lockdown, which became lame after a few months. We have a two acre paddock in our backyard and I bought it for my teenage niece who lived with us.
I knew she would be on her phone inside all the time. I thought a horse would get her out. And he did, until he started pushing her away because he was in so much pain.
What’s the best financial decision you’ve made?
Four years ago I bought a two bedroom property to rent in Sheffield for £40,000 with a £15,000 security deposit. The rent for the property is equivalent to an annual return of 10% and I believe it also appreciates in value during this period.
Do you save in a pension?
I used to. I think I saved around £5,000 in a pension, but quit about a year ago because I’d rather put my money in bricks and mortar.
My husband and I hope to build a rental property portfolio on an interest-only mortgage, then in 30 years, sell a third of it to pay off all the mortgages and retire with the income from the remaining properties.
Best foot forward: Laura Bingham led South America’s first-ever Essequibo River descent
Do you invest directly in the stock market?
Yes, I have some stock in Mama Bamboo, a company that makes eco-friendly nappies. But I would like to have four or five properties to rent before I really start investing in stocks.
Do you own a property?
Only my property in Sheffield. My husband owns our home, a Grade II listed four bedroom house with six acres and three holiday rentals in the surrounding forest which he bought in 2016 for £1.12million. It’s probably worth around £2m now.
What little luxury do you treat yourself to?
I enjoy a day at the spa every month when my husband is away. He works for the Discovery Channel and is sometimes absent for up to two months at a time. I manage vacation rentals and we have three children and a menagerie of animals, so life can be extremely busy.
The day at the spa gives me space to recharge my batteries so that I don’t burn out. I spend between £120 and £180.
If you were chancellor, what would you do?
I would put more funds into paying NHS staff what they are really worth. The value they add to our country far exceeds the salaries they currently receive in return.
Do you donate money to charity?
Yes, not bad, but just between £5 and £20 per month for each. I also donate my time and my books to underprivileged schools. I believe in karma. The more you give, the more you receive.
What is your number one financial priority?
So that my children always have everything they need: food in their mouths, a roof over their heads and the care they need to feel safe and become the best versions of themselves .
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