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The Fierce Girl's Guide to Finance

Get your shit together with money

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January 2017

Daddy Lessons: 3 tips from a Fierce Girl father

While support for this blog from the sisterhood has been fantastic, I’ve also been delighted by the number of men who have got behind it.  My dad is one of these honorary Fierce Guys, and because I am studying for my last exam, he offered to do a guest post. What a legend.

So, here are some tips from a guy who lives the ideal retirement lifestyle, after a long and intense career in the corporate world.

A Fierce Girl dad chips in – by David White

I’d better fess up at the outset.  I’m one of those baby-boomers.  You know, the ones who got a free university education, lucked out in the property market, got the best out of the super system.  What could I possibly have to say to the Gen Ys and Xs who have to live in a much less opportunity-rich environment?

Trust me, I know how lucky I’ve been and the media keeps reminding me if I forget.  But I think there are a few rules applicable at any time, which is what my Fierce Girl has been trying to tell you.  So that you don’t have to listen for too long to an old bloke’s pontificating, I just want to suggest three ideas you might consider.

Your super

I know it’s getting hard to trust the system when they keep tinkering with super.  Do you really want to put your money into a game where the goalposts keep moving?  Here’s the thing, though – even this penny-pinching government won’t change the rules backwards.  They had a go recently and their own hard-arsed conservative mates forced a backdown.  All the rule-changing has confirmed this  – every bit you can get into your super account before the next bit of tinkering is a bonus that will pay you back later on.

I would say to you, stuff every bit of left-over cash you can manage into your super account, while the rules let you still contribute.  Do it to the point where it hurts you just a little bit.  In 20 or 30 years’ time you will love yourself for it.

One thing you need to remember, though, is that your super balance (even though you might not be able to get your hands on it for decades), is counted at its face value as part of your total asset pool in some cases.  So if you find your Mr Darcy, and he turns out to be Mr Wickham, all your hardscrabble super would fall into the pot to be divided between you.  It will hurt you to have to give that creep anything, when he’s been out putting new gadgets on his four wheel drive and drinking fancy single malt Scotch while you’ve been sensibly trying to assure your financial future together.  And now he wants some of your super!

But think about this if that shit happens to you – what you have in your super can never be replaced if you have to trade it away as part of the split, because of those changing rules.  Maybe let that freeloader have a bit more of the hard assets, and hang on to as much of the super pie as you can.  Down the track you ‘ll be feeling smug when all he can afford is Johnny Walker Red and a secondhand Hyundai.

Don’t buy a Porsche

That may be the wankiest piece of advice you will ever get in the Fierce Girl’s Guide.  But there was this one time, late in my career, when for the only time ever via some fluke in the market, the company had a great result and we maxed out our bonuses.  The executive team did particularly well out of it (yeah, I know, fat cat bosses).  Out of the seven of us, the car park count was:  two of the most expensive Harley Davidsons you could buy; two Porsches; one BMW.  One of us (a girl of course) put it towards the house she was in the midst of buying.  Being the tight-arse I am, I paid off my last bit of debt.

Now I’m never going to have another chance to buy a Porsche.  But every time I see some grey-headed dude drive past in one, it reminds me that I made a good decision.

What should you do if a bundle of cash falls unexpectedly into your lap?  I would apply the 80-10-10 rule.  With 80% of it, do something boring and sensible:  pay it off your mortgage, invest it, stick it into super.  With 10%, blow it on yourself and get something you’ve really lusted after but couldn’t prudently afford.  Then give the last 10% away, to your family, to charity, to some cause you’re passionate about – it will feel amazingly good.  You’ll end up with a triple shot of self-esteem, instead of that hangover feeling after you pissed the money away.

It’s not all about you

Without wanting to contradict all the good advice you get from this Guide, I want to suggest that you don’t button yourself down so much financially that you might be hurting people you love.  I asked my Fierce Girl if I was too much of a tight-arse when she was growing up.  She said, “It wasn’t too bad, but you should have taken us to Disneyland.”

She’s right, I could have afforded it, and going to Disneyland in your thirties just isn’t the same. Thus my unrelenting financial prudence was in some ways not so clever.  Precious memories can give just as good a return on investment as bluechip shares.

So, you go for it, all you Fierce Girls.  It’s a hard world out there, but you can do it.  Oh, and remember your dads love you, and we’re proud of you.

Note from Belinda: If you haven’t seen Beyonce sing Daddy Lessons with the Dixie Chicks, do yourself a favour and go here

Also, my dad and I have blogged together for ages on http://www.lifein500words.wordpress.com if you’re interested. #nerdfamily

3 money lessons I’d give my 21-year-old self

My first degree was Arts, with Honours in English literature. If you want to know about Latin declensions or 19th century novelists, I’m your girl.

I don’t tell you this to impress you (although, feel free to be impressed), but to give you the context of how financially literate I was when I started my career. I even dropped maths in Year 12!

Now, I’m about to finish the final exam in an Applied Finance course. It’s not a full degree or anything crazy like that, but it’s the pathway to becoming a financial analyst (which I don’t intend to do).

In the 16 years between my first graduation and my imminent second one, I’ve muddled along on my own. I’ve learnt from smart clients and bosses, and the great Tom Buchan hounded me into loving economics. But I am not a numbers person, I don’t love maths and I can’t split a bill to save to myself.

Yet here I am, talking about money and stuff.

If I can do it, anybody can. However, there are things I wish I’d known earlier. If I sat my 21-year-old self down, this is what I’d say.

Capital Growth + Income = Returns. Think about all your savings in this way. Capital growth is when your asset increases in value without you doing anything to it. Your house’s value goes up while you live in it, or your shares increase in price while you own them.

Income is what you receive along the way. Think rent on an investment property, interest on a savings account or dividends on shares.

Every investment or asset will have some or all of these ingredients, e.g:

  • The house you buy to live in receives no income, but it gets capital growth.
  • A bluechip share portfolio will usually have a bit of each but skews towards income (more about that here).
  • A savings account has no capital growth but will pay income from interest.

There is no perfect combination of growth and income; it’s like lipstick. One that’s super glossy and glides on beautifully won’t stay on past your morning coffee. You can get one that makes it well past lunch, but it dries your lips out like a desert. Every lipstick has some combination of shine and durability, but the perfect ratio doesn’t exist.

Generally, the younger you are, the more you look for ‘growth’ assets because you’re building your wealth. When you’re retired, you generally need more income because you don’t have a paypacket. There are a hundred different scenarios in between, so you need to decide what’s important to you.

Every dollar you spend is a dollar you can’t make money from. The thing about money is that it can make you more money. Buying a house, investing in shares, contributing to super, even just getting interest on a bank account: all of those things give you more money – FREE money! Because that’s what capital growth and income are: money you DIDN’T HAVE TO EARN by working.

So, while it feels good to drop 100 bucks on eyelash extensions (don’t get me started on the ridiculousness of that price point), that’s money you could have put towards a holiday, or a home, or a degree, or any number of things that will actually improve your life.

If you can look me in the eye and convince me that extensions have genuinely improved your life (better job? hotter man? happier heart?) then go ahead. For example, I genuinely, deeply believe being blonde is an expensive but essential part of my life. But that means I don’t do other things like spray tans or nail salons.

It’s part of my approach to mindful spending and while it’s not perfect, it means I have some money leftover to do other, more productive stuff.

Get to know your money personality – and manage it. Everyone has their own approach to finances . I’m the ‘going broke saving money’ type: I can’t go past a sale … but still buy stuff I don’t need. (And, of course, it’s not a bargain if you don’t need it).

The key is to identify your own quirks and work around them (e.g. I try to avoid shopping malls in January). It’s all about self-awareness.

In a partnership, it’s more complicated. I was often in a tug-of-war with my ex-husband because we had different ideas about our money. He spent far more on ‘stuff’ than I’d like; I spent more on travel than he wanted. Neither of us was right or wrong, but if I had my time again, I would keep more money separate, accept that we have different priorities, and work from that basis.

Nobody is perfect, and I’m certainly not . I still get mad at myself for breaking my own budgets. I am the worst at claiming back money from my health fund and the tax office. I never have all of my shit together, all at once.

But like most hard things, doing a little bit to improve, all the time, can have a big impact.

Do you know some Fierce Girls who could use this advice? Share this post! Or subscribe if you want more real talk and lipstick analogies.

How your girlsquad can support your money goals

There’s nothing more powerful than a girlsquad in full force. They’re your wingwomen when you need to meet that guy. They bring you wine and chocolate when he breaks your heart. They’re there when your kids are sick, when your husband’s an idiot, when your boss is an arsehole.

Unleashing the squad is a powerful force, so we need to use that power for good.

But in reality, we sometimes do each other a disservice. Not just convincing ourselves that shots at midnight are a really good idea. I mean with our money.

The fitting-room frenzy

I still remember a certain bestie of mine convincing me, circa 2001, to buy a red velour suit from Seduce. It was some ridiculous price for a girl earning $30K a year. I lay-byed it for a week before seeing the error of my ways. Lost the deposit though.

We all have a habit of giving each other permission – nay, encouragement – to buy things we don’t need, can’t afford, but look great in.

What if, instead, we asked our bestie whether she really needed it? Is she saving for something else? Is she in credit card debt? What else will it go with in her wardrobe?

It’s not like you have to be a total killjoy-negative-nancy. But asking a few questions or having a rational conversation could be all she needs to get past that temptation in the heat of the moment.

F*ck it, let’s buy the French!

We’re looking a bar menu, and perhaps we have already imbibed some alcoholic beverages, and our decision-making is a little impaired. There is a cheapish bottle of bubbles; a mid-price Aussie drop; and a really effing expensive bottle of French champagne. A Fierce Girl will go with the first – unless she knows it’s going to be some horrible house rubbish, so then she might go with the second.

But a not-so-fierce girl friend will think up some reason  – ‘it’s the first month of an awesome year!’ – and buy the third one. Now you’ll either have to go halves or feel obligated to buy something equally exy in the next round. Credit card chaos ensues.

This is one of those situations where we are shamed or guilted or tempted into spending more than we can afford. Nobody means for it to happen, but sometimes – at restaurants, bars and on holidays – we get caught up in somebody else’s spending cycle.

Sure, treat yourself sometimes, but be aware that not everyone has the same financial resources as you. Not everyone will tell you they can’t afford it.

There is a huge social pressure, in our flashy consumer culture, to keep up with our friends. So, try not to be the friend who starts that cycle.

How can your girlsquad support your money goals?

First of all, talk about money! Not in a whingey, ‘I wish I had more’ way. Not in a ‘hehe I am so bad with money but adorable otherwise’ way.

Talk about it in a positive, adult way, that helps clarify our goals and the ways we will reach them.

We talk about our relationship goals. Our career goals. Geez, we share intimate details of sex, birth and bodily functions.

So why not talk about what we are doing with our money? Where we are having problems, where we have found ways to get our shit together, and where we have found good advice (oh hey, Fierce Girl’s Guide to Finance!).

Women aren’t socialised to be interested in this sort of stuff the way men are. How often do you swap stock tips with your mates? The conspiracy theorist in me thinks that men (at a patriarchal level, not individual men) like it this way. Because if women are not very good at money, men can be. And then they can have money and power and control. And we have to stay home and raise their kids and clean their houses and stuff.

So don’t let the patriarchy win. I’ve said before that finance is a feminist issue, and I say it again here.

Another positive thing we can do is have fun, tight-arse activities. When Mindy was saving to go overseas and Alexis was smashing her credit card debt and I was on a strict pre-comp diet, we invented the Supper Club. It was a rotating dinner at each other’s place once every couple of weeks that kept us out of harm’s way. It was great (until Mindy selfishly moved overseas).

Sometimes my friends and I have picnics or walks. Sometimes we go to the beach. Think about ways you can enjoy your friendships that isn’t based on spending.  Old school, yo.

We all have a choice about how we influence each other. Be the friend who advocates for positive decisions that improve our lives.

Except at midnight, when it’s time for shots.

If you like this post and want more finance goodness straight to your inbox, subscribe to the blog! Just head to that little box on the top right. And you should probably share this post with your friends, to warn them about your next shopping trip behaviour. 

Photo credit: Hubs

3 ways the world is trying to make you poor

A lady called Jackie used to enjoy making me poor. Sure, she was one of the nicest women you could meet – a sweet, friendly mother of a young son. But she fed my addiction.

Every three weeks, I gave her an hour of my life and $35 of my hard-earned money.

You see, Jackie was one of the best acrylic nail technicians in the city. And for a couple of years, I was addicted to the long, colourful nails she gave me. I reckon I spent around $1200 before I wised up and ditched them.

My nails were really fun. Did they improve my life in any meaningful way? No. Did they attach me to an ongoing cost? Yes.

And this is one of the many ways we piss our money away. Locking yourself into recurring costs is a dangerous, because what becomes regular becomes normalised.

You forget to question it. You assume that you need it. You shape your life around those costs.

And this is one of the ways the world conspires to make us poor. Here are some more.

Micropayments and subscriptions – A useful exercise is to go through your bank statements and review all the monthly deductions. It’s amazing how it adds up.

I have Netflix and Stan (I know, excessive, but I am obsessed with The West Wing and it’s only on Stan). So there’s $264 a year. Then Spotify – $144. Dropbox comes to $156.

What seem like little amounts add to more than 500 bucks a year.

This isn’t breaking the bank – but is it necessary? I reviewed the first three and decided they are all integral to my life (West Wing is life). But Dropbox has barely anything stored in there, so why am I paying?

This is the kind of review it’s useful to do every 3-6 months. Where can you cancel and trim?

And if anyone is subscribed to those awful ‘Bella Box’ kind of services – sorry, but you are being ripped off. Signing up to pay for shit you don’t need and didn’t pick – every month – is like standing under the shower cutting up ten-dollar notes. Please, cancel that shit now.

The loyalty tax – We often pay more to stay loyal to insurance, phone and energy companies. They assume once you’re in, you’ll be too lazy to switch. They’re often correct.

But not the Fierce Girls! When they send you a renewal notice for insurance, get a couple of quotes elsewhere. You can use comparison websites like Finder.com.au or Mozo.com.au (not an endorsement, just telling you they exist).  Although speaking to individual companies can sometimes get you a better deal, in my experience.

Energy companies are generally awful so I recently signed up to Power Shop, which is kind of the Uber of the energy retailing sector. And it has green energy options, if you care about that. Check it out here and if you want to switch, you could always use this link and I’ll get a discount. (Like, only if you want to. No pressure.)

When my phone comes off plan in March, I will drop to a cheaper ‘BYO’ rate, because I can. Even if it means having an old phone for a while.

I recently changed health funds, because for around the same price I can get full gap-free dental instead of some half-arsed rebate. That will save me a few hundred dollars a year.

Seriously, spend a bit of time doing this type of hunting, and you will save a lot over time. My home-girl Nicole Pedersen-McKinnon has a great article about this.

Credit card minimum repayments and balance transfers – A piece in the SMH last week said that “[e]conomists have found the minimum payments that appear on monthly credit card statements act as an “anchor”, causing many consumers to pay off less debt than they otherwise would – and should.”

If you are paying the minimum, or close to it, reconsider. Where can you cut and trim costs (see above) to increase the repayments?

In an earlier post about good and bad debt, we all agreed that credit card debt is top of the ‘bad’ list (ok, maybe loan sharks are worse, so stay away from men with bad hair and bodyguards).

Is it a viable solution to get a new card with a no-interest balance transfer? Yes and no.

Yes if you have worked out a detailed plan to pay off that amount within the interest-free period.

No if you have just transferred and hoped for the best. Good intentions are not an actual plan.

And don’t even think about spending any more on that card, because that stuff will NOT be interest-free. Choice has a good article about these products here.

But really, if you can’t afford it, don’t buy it. Credit cards can be good for short-term cashflow issues but they are not your friend long-term. I know you know that, but just thought I’d say it again.

And what about Afterpay? I’ve seen this available with online retailers lately. It’s like a lay-by, but you get the item immediately. Then you have a payment plan: for example, pay off a $200 dress in four separate payments over a couple of months.

Because I love you, and because it’s growing really fast, I’ve looked into this service (I even read their prospectus, since they are listing on the stock exchange soon). Here are my thoughts.

Pros – they don’t charge interest – in fact they can’t, because they don’t have the right license from the government (yet). So it’s much better than using a credit card. The company makes money by charging retailers, who are happy to pay because it makes you more likely to buy their stuff.

Cons – it makes you more likely to buy stuff. It’s behavioural economics: we are more likely to spend money when it’s less painful, so four $50 payments feels so much better than dropping $200. Hello, shopping cart!

So, if using Afterpay makes you spend more, stay away from it. If you’re disciplined and it doesn’t change your buying decisions, it’s not a bad idea. (Let’s be honest, though, who is that disciplined?)

There you go Fierce Girls, go forth and save. Or don’t. Just stay Fierce.

Photo credit: Zhao

7 money resolutions you can keep in 2017

Let’s all enter the secret circle of realtalk. New year’s resolutions are BS. We are hungover from eating, drinking and spending too much; resolutions are a handy way to purge our guilt. I get that.  

So that title is misleading. It should be: Some vague intentions and principles you might consider adopting to improve your finances this year, which aren’t really very hard or onerous.

1. Write your mindful spending manifesto. This isn’t hard. You can do it with a glass of (moderately priced) wine in hand one quiet night. (Read more about mindful spending here)

Take a moment to consider what you want to spend your hard-earned cash on in 2017. It can be a list or a mission statement. Write it on a note on the fridge or put it in your phone.

Here, I’ll start. I want to allocate money to travel, delicious breakfasts, quality fresh food and ethical protein sources, investing for my future, charities, powerlifting and fitness.

I want to avoid spending money on: coffee I can make myself; fancy wine; overpriced drinks in bars; clothes I don’t need; nail salons that may or may not be supporting human trafficking; things I need to find storage for; any more bloody shoes.

This will be a balancing act. I cannot guarantee to avoid Wittner for an entire calendar year. However, I will try my best. And I will NEVER pay full price there. Speaking of…

2. Stop paying full price for things. You only need to walk around the sales right now to know that Aussie retailers are addicted to discounting. Consumers want to spend less (because wage growth has stalled and we are highly indebted). But shops want us to spend more, so they keep making it more enticing.

You can take advantage of this by being organised. Not like spreadsheet organised – just using a bit of forethought. Think about what you know you need to buy, in advance, and then wait til it’s cheaper.

For instance, you already know how many weddings you’ll attend this year – if you want a new dress for each one, start looking now and buy on sale. (Alternatively, don’t be such a princess and wear an old one).

If you get to the beginning of a new season and feel a deep need to update your wardrobe, do it now – at the end of summer – and save it for next summer. This week I pulled out a fresh new Victoria’s Secret bikini I bought in the US, in June. It cost me thirty bucks then, and I feel like a million dollars now.

In the supermarket, my step-mum says to buy things you need when they are on spesh, not when they run out. This is good advice, and it’s why she always has two of every expensive cleaning product (whereas I just shop at Aldi and buy the cheap stuff).

3. Learn something about money and investing. Obviously you’re already reading Fierce Girl. Go you!!! But you can do more. Read the Money section of the newspaper. Buy a book about investing. Read some blogs or websites (check out my Resources page).

Basically, put your big girl boots on and take and interest, so that you can control your financial future. Don’t tell me it’s boring or hard or not your thing. We all have to do hard and boring things – but not all of them give you the chance to do something cool at the end, like go on holiday in Paris – AMIRIGHT?

4. Sort our your super. It’s easy and fast and will make a big difference to your future. Start with these:

  1. Roll multiple accounts into one.
  2. Pick the right investment option for your age (it may not be the default one).
  3. Set up salary sacrifices to make extra payments.

All of those things will make a decent difference to your retirement 30-40 years from now.

Super compounds and grows over a loooong time, so the things you do early on make a difference later. Small pain now, big gain later. There is a whole post I wrote on this, but if that’s too hard to read you could just call your super fund and get things moving.

5. Break a bad money habit. Go on, pick one. The one I finally nailed in 2016 was to stop buying coffee every day. I literally spent years battling the siren song of frothy, milky, delicious flat whites. But for my health, wallet and size of my arse, I replaced it with black coffee in a plunger. And here’s what I can tell you: you get used to anything, and then, in the end, quite like it.

I know you have a bad habit. Maybe it’s online shopping in front of the TV. Maybe it’s buying clothes when you’re upset and stressed. Maybe it’s just buying far too much takeaway. Pick one thing, work out what the underlying driver is behind it, and devise a strategy to short-circuit it. I’m not a guru on behavioural change, but here’s a guy who is, and whom I love: James Clear – check him out and read his e-book.

6. Make friends with your bank. I just opened a new account with St George. I already have three, but this was a new one called ‘Spending’ (you can name them). It’s where I allocate day-to-day, guilt-free spending money to. It’s great! It just helps me to mentally compartmentalise money. And nothing goes in there till the boring stuff has been done (bills, rent, savings – ugh).

St George has also upgraded the mobile app so it does a whole bunch of new stuff that makes life easier, like splitting bills. You should look at your own bank and what it offers to help you track and manage spending – and save more. Remember, it’s in your bank’s interest that you save money with them (so they can lend it to others). Make the the most of it and play around with the mobile app.

7. Sort out your head. Ok, I just snuck this one in as a bonus. What I mean is that lots of negative behaviours with money are related to our mental health and happiness. Some people buy expensive things to prop up their self-esteem. Others avoid taking control of their money because it makes them feel dumb. Other people are just distracting themselves from the tedium or terror of the human condition. 

You know what I mean. Think about what might be holding you back mentally or emotionally. I have been reading The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck by Mark Manson. It’s gloriously full of expletives, but it’s also full of realtalk that makes you think hard about your life choices. I highly recommend it as a starting point.

Oh hey, before you go…

2017: Fiercer and more financey than ever

This year is going to be big for The Fierce Girl’s Guide to Finance. I’ll be making the site prettier and easier to navigate. I’ll be holding some in-person workshops. Maybe there will even be an e-book.

So can I ask you a favour? Please share the love. I’m trying to build a community – a movement even – of ladies who are getting their shit together with money. But it needs your support. Get your friends to subscribe and/or like the Facebook page. Share the posts you like on social media. Comment if you have questions or things to say or requests for topics. Feedback is good and it’s what builds a community.

So, let’s make this year fierce and fantastic and a little bit financey.

No go ahead and Slay Bitches!

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