Explorer Laura Bingham talks to ME & MY MONEY

Daring: Laura Bingham with husband Ed Stafford

Laura Bingham was once so poor she slept in a shed. Now the 29-year-old explorer, who led the first ever descent of the Essequibo River in South America and sailed across the Atlantic in a 38ft Trimaran, commands speaking fees of up to £5,000 a day and lives in a £2 million Grade 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 house plants and a menagerie of animals. She is married to fellow explorer Ed Stafford, 47, and they have three children: Ranulph, five, 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 published. 

What did your parents teach you about money? 

To work hard for it. There wasn’t a lot of money around when I was a child. My mum was a cleaner, my father a painter-decorator, and we lived in an ex-council house. But my parents made sure we had nice holidays and I never wanted for anything. 

Have you ever struggled to make ends meet? 

Yes. There was a time in my early twenties when I couldn’t afford my rent. In effect, I was homeless and ended up sleeping in a shed. 

I was living in London with my boyfriend who then split up with me really suddenly. I was doing two jobs at the time – in a clothes shop and a pub – but I couldn’t afford the £800 a month rent by myself, so I had to leave the property. And I didn’t have anywhere to go.

It was winter and cold – but there was a little shed in the garden. So I hid my suitcase there and would sneak in after dark and sleep in a chair. Every few days, I would stay in a hostel and have a shower. 

I used the money I 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 I was sleeping in that shed. 

Have you ever been paid silly money? 

About three years ago, I was paid £10,000 by drinks manufacturer Metaxa for two days’ work. They flew me to Belgium for a one-day photo and film shoot, and 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 sat on a panel session at the launch of one of its games. 

What was the best year of your financial life? 

It was 2018, the year that I did an expedition to locate the source of the Essequibo River in Guyana. Afterwards, I did lots of work for different brands and was involved in loads of marketing campaigns, especially on social media, which meant I was getting paid quite a lot. 

The most expensive thing you bought for fun? 

I once spent £75 on a leaf of a houseplant. It came with a couple of roots, but I had to grow those roots on, to propagate and plant it.

It’s a rare plant called a variegated Monstera. It’s now got three leaves and if it gets to six feet high, I can sell it for £4,000. So it’s an investment. Or at least, that’s how I justified the purchase to my husband. 

I have more than 150 house plants at home. I hate living in a sterile environment where there’s no greenery or oxygen. It makes me feel stifled. I really liked the jungle. I miss it. 

What is your biggest money mistake? 

I bought a secondhand Jaguar that was being sold below its market price. I thought I was being very clever when I bought it for £1,500. Two weeks later, the car died on me. 

I also paid £1,000 for a horse just as we were going into lockdown, which went lame after a few months. We’ve got a two-acre paddock in our garden and I bought it for my teenage niece who was living with us. 

I knew she would be on her phone indoors the whole time. I thought a horse would get her outside. And it did, until it started bucking her off because it was in so much pain.

The best money decision you have made? 

Four years ago, I bought a two-bedroom buy-to-let property in Sheffield for £40,000 with a £15,000 deposit. The rent from the property is equivalent to an annual return of 10 per cent and I think it’s also appreciated in value during that time. 

Do you save into a pension? 

I used to. I think I’ve got around £5,000 saved in a pension, but I stopped about a year ago because I prefer to put my money into bricks and mortar. 

My husband and I are hoping to build a buy-to-let property portfolio on an interest-only mortgage basis and then, in 30 years’ time, sell off a third of them to pay off all the mortgages and retire on the income from the remaining properties.

Best foot forward: Laura Bingham led the first ever descent of the Essequibo River in South America

Best foot forward: Laura Bingham led the first ever descent of the Essequibo River in South America

Do you invest directly in the stock market? 

Yes, I’ve got a few shares in Mama Bamboo, a company that makes eco-nappies. But I’d like to have four or five buy-to-let properties before I start really investing in stocks and shares. 

Do you own any property? 

Only my property in Sheffield. My husband owns our home, a four-bedroom Grade II-listed house with six acres and three holiday lets in the surrounding woodland which he bought in 2016 for £1.12million. It’s probably worth about £2million now. 

What little luxury do you treat yourself to? 

I enjoy a spa day every month when my husband goes away. He works for Discovery Channel and sometimes is away for up to two months at a stretch. I manage the holiday lets and we’ve got three children and a menagerie of animals, so life can be extremely busy. 

The spa day gives me space to recharge so that I’m not burning out. I spend anything between £120 and £180.

If you were Chancellor what would you do? 

I would put more funding into paying NHS staff what they’re truly worth. The value that they add to our country far outweighs the wages they’re currently receiving in return. 

Do you donate money to charity? 

Yes, quite a few, but just between £5 and £20 a month to each one. I also donate my time and books to underprivileged schools. I believe in karma. The more you give, the more you get. 

What is your number one financial priority? 

To make sure my children always have everything they need: food in their mouths, a roof over their heads and the care that they need to feel safe and secure and become the best versions of themselves. 

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