Champion gymnast Becky Downie is a super sensible saver who makes sure she’s able to afford her bills – even when she is injured and unable to compete.
The 31-year-old double European champion won silver for Great Britain alongside her younger sister and fellow gymnast Ellie Downie in the 2019 World Championships.
She tells Donna Ferguson she is cautious about how she spends her money. On the night before her final Olympic trial in 2021, her brother Joshua died unexpectedly from an undiagnosed heart condition while playing cricket.
Becky then missed out on selection for the British Olympic team, and has since suffered an injury and a reduction in her monthly funding from UK Sport.
But she says her parents taught her that if she works hard, she can achieve anything and is determined to carry on training and competing. Both she and Ellie, 23, are ambassadors for the British Heart Foundation.
Sitting pretty: Becky Downie’s parents taught her that if she works hard, she can achieve anything
What did your parents teach you about money?
To be sensible and careful. My dad was an accountant who went on to run his own security service, providing doormen for clubs and pubs across Nottingham. My mum worked as a receptionist then had a career gap while she brought up five kids. Now she works at Wilko. Money wasn’t tight when I was growing up and we were very comfortable.
My parents put in a lot of time and effort to support me and my siblings in our extracurricular activities, and never put any limits or boundaries on us. They made us feel that if we worked hard, we could achieve anything, and they encouraged us to do what we wanted. For me and Ellie, that was gymnastics.
Have you ever struggled to make ends meet?
Not struggled but definitely, over the last few years, my finances have changed. The majority of my income comes from a UK Sport lottery grant, which for gymnasts at my level ranges from around £1,500 to £2,200 a month, tax-free [equivalent to a salary of between £20,500 to £33,000 a year]. It’s all based on performance so it’s not a stable income. That means it can be quite stressful if, like me, you have an injury, and haven’t performed for a while.
I used to get the higher end of the grant, but I’ve had difficult challenges over the last two years and my funding has reduced as a result. I wasn’t selected to be on the team in the run-up to Tokyo and I had an Achilles tendon rupture, off the back of an already difficult year. I considered retiring like Ellie, but decided I still love what I do and want to try for one more Olympics.
With the cost of living crisis, the change in my income has made me mindful of spending so I’m not in a position where I buy anything I want and I am looking at ways to bring in a little extra money.
Have you ever been paid silly money?
When Ellie and I got our big World Championship medals in 2019, opportunities started coming in from sponsors that were worth significantly more money than we were used to. We had one deal where we got £20,000 each to do three photoshoots. It’s not really work to do something like that – especially compared to the work I do as a gymnast.
When we gymnasts hear about what athletes from other sports receive in terms of prize money and sponsorship, it just shows how our sport is at the really low end of the pay scale.
What was the best year of your financial life?
Thanks to the brand sponsorship deals Ellie and I were getting off the back of those 2019 championships, it was 2020. Plus, I was on the higher end of the UK sport funding and due to lockdown I didn’t really spend any money. I lived with my parents so saved up for a deposit on my first home.
What is the most expensive thing you bought for fun?
My black Mercedes GLA, which I got second-hand for around £17,500 in 2021. I bought it outright because I didn’t want a £300 bill around my neck every month if my funding got reduced.
What is your biggest money mistake?
I’ve not made any crazy mistakes as I’ve always been more than cautious with funds. I don’t know why, but I’m always worried I’m going to lose my money. My mum will say, ‘You’ve got all this money sitting in the bank, you can afford to buy this or do that.’ But just as I do in my sport, I like to plan ahead with my finances and always have a plan B.
My siblings aren’t as cautious. Ellie is the opposite to me – if she really wants something nice, she’s like, ‘Life’s too short, I’ll get it’.
The best money decision you have made?
Buying my house in a village near Nottingham, at the end of 2020. It’s a three-bedroom, semi-detached new-build and I paid £160,000. Until then I lived at home, saving money (I paid board to my mum but nowhere near as much as if I was living on my own). That enabled me to save a pretty significant deposit of £60,000, so my mortgage is about £450 a month. I knew my income was unstable when I bought my house so have made sure my bills would still be affordable whatever happened.
Sister act: Becky, left, and Ellie Downie at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro
Do you save into a pension and invest in the stock market?
I started a couple of years ago after I spoke to a financial adviser from St James’s Place. I pay £200 into my pension every month and have £30,000 invested in a stocks and shares Isa. It hasn’t made any money – if anything, I’ve lost money. But I see Isas as a long- term investment.
If you were Chancellor, what’s the first thing you would do?
I would provide more funding for sport in schools. There are so many life lessons you can learn from participating in sport, so many friendships and opportunities. For me, getting into a sport completely changed my life. I’ve travelled the world and had experiences I would never otherwise have had. Good funding can make a big difference, enabling you to have better facilities and coaching and more staff.
With gymnastics particularly, there’s really big demand for participation but there isn’t the space to meet that demand. We need more venues, to make the sport more accessible.
Do you donate to charity?
I support a charity that is very meaningful to me. Two years ago, I lost my brother Josh who was 24 and had an undiagnosed heart condition. It’s still very hard for me to get my head around what happened to him.
Since then, I have had the massive honour to be asked to work with the British Heart Foundation as an ambassador. It’s incredible for me to see the work the charity does every day to support families and to fund new cardiovascular research.
What is your number one financial priority?
To build a gym with Ellie. Until I manage that, I’m not going to waste my money on holidays or extravagant clothes. I’m going to save as much as I can.
- To donate to the British Heart Foundation or find out more about the charity’s work, please go to bhf.org.uk.
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