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The Fierce Girl's Guide to Finance

Get your shit together with money

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Fierce Girl

Hi there, I'm the Chief Fierce Girl. I work in the finance world, and moonlight as a blogger helping to empower women financially. Thanks for stopping by; I can see we are going to be great friends.

Just a conversation with a (very) sassy friend who has mastered the art of life

So that title is a quote about me. I love it, but feel a little fraudulent because I have definitely not mastered anything.

Anyway, it’s by the awesome Erika Jonsson, and we are having a bromance, but the girl version. (Why isn’t there a female version of that concept? Oh that’s right, because it’s socially acceptable for women to admire and be supportive of each other. Yasss gurrrrl!)

She interviewed me for over an hour and somehow made sense of my feminist ramblings, publishing it on the Six Park blog. So, here I am, spilling the tea. Enjoy.

WHAT WAS THE FIRST THING YOU REMEMBER SAVING FOR? HOW LONG DID IT TAKE?

I didn’t really get proper pocket money as a kid, but when I was 13 I started working at a printing shop for $5 an hour and I saved up for a boom box – it was a double-cassette plus CD player, so I could use it to make mix tapes. I reckon it took me about six months and I had it until well after I moved out of home, so it was a pretty good purchase!

WHAT PROMPTED YOU TO START THE FIERCE GIRL’S GUIDE TO FINANCE?

I was doing work on what was then called Money Smart Week, and one of the things they asked everyone to do was have workplace events. So I got a bunch of PR girls together and ran these lunchtime seminars preaching the gospel of superannuation and it went from there.

In terms of launching the blog, I started out treating myself as though I was a client and considering my objectives and channels. But perfect is the enemy of done, so I just ended up starting and building the site myself (which is why it’s not very fancy).

Not that long ago I was listening to Gloria Steinem in conversation with Oprah, and her advice was: “Do the thing that only you can do.” There are so many strands to unpick before we can get close to gender equality, but the thing that I can unpick is helping women realise it’s not unfeminine to be good with money. I want to change that thinking that says we’re all about spending. Money is at the core of how much power we have.

WHY DO YOU THINK EXPENSIVE SHOES (THINK LOUBOUTINS AND MANOLOS) HAVE BECOME SUCH AN IMPORTANT REFERENCE POINT IN TALKING TO WOMEN ABOUT MONEY?

My theory is that it’s women signalling success to other women. I think women are particularly socialised to talk about how we spend money but not about how we make it or invest it. But money itself doesn’t signify power; it creates power by giving you choices and opportunities. If you’re spending that money on shoes that aren’t even very comfortable, you’re not taking control of that power fully.

One of the things that troubles me a lot at the moment is the obsession with cosmetics and injectables and really expensive beauty treatments. I’m not judging women who use these services, by the way, but every time you’ve got a 26-year-old woman getting Botox, it’s a way to disempower her, because she’s now embraced a spending pattern that will last through her 20s and beyond. We’re talking about hundreds and hundreds of dollars being spent, mostly by women, who think this is what they need as a minimum to show up in the world. It’s fine if you have all the money – great, go get a facial – but don’t do that before you’ve paid your bills and set yourself up for a life that will give you power and opportunities.

FIERCE GIRL IS FULL OF GREAT POP CULTURE REFERENCES, INCLUDING ICONIC FILMS AND SERIES SUCH AS LEGALLY BLONDE AND SEX AND THE CITY. WHO ARE YOUR FAVOURITE CHARACTERS AND INFLUENCES WHEN IT COMES TO MONEY?

One of the biggest singers in the world at the moment is Billie Eilish, who’s quite androgynous, and I find that really exciting – she’s giving a different version of femininity that’s not all about crop tops or high heels. When it comes to money, though, the women I admire the most are probably Beyonce and Rihanna. They’ve kept control of their business decisions and their empires and they’ve flipped the narrative. I know that’s a very capitalist way to look at things but if women can take away even a small amount of the thinking that says money isn’t about what you can spend but about the choices and opportunities it gives you, we’d all be better off – we’d all be a bit more Beyonce, right?

YOU WROTE A POST ON SPENDING LESS AND SAVING MORE THAT WENT “LOW-KEY VIRAL” – WHAT ARE THE MOST POPULAR POSTS ON THE BLOG, AND WHY DO YOU THINK THEY’VE RESONATED THE WAY THEY HAVE?

The one I wrote about how to structure your bank accounts was wildly popular – it’s not rocket science, but it was a great simplification of how to think about things. By far the most popular ones, though, are the ones that are the most personal, including a recent post about the single biggest risk to your money. As someone who’s come out of a divorce, I’m fortunate to have an income and a career, but I didn’t come out of that situation in what I thought was a very fair way. If I could go back in time I would have protected myself a bit more. I think people really resonate with the authenticity of those kind of blogs. People connect with people, not instructions or tables – they want to hear stories.

(Erika’s note: one of my personal favourites, and the one that introduced me to Fierce Girl, is the Mindful Spending Manifesto, which doesn’t decree that you shouldn’t buy anything, but that you shouldn’t buy everything.)

WHAT WAS THE FIRST INVESTMENT YOU MADE OUTSIDE YOUR SUPER?

I’ve been putting extra into my super since I was 21 – though I lost a decent chunk of that in my divorce – and everything else has gone into my house. Other than a little Raiz account, I’m probably overweight in property! A lot of my wealth has gone into my home, but I’ve done that quite consciously because I do have a decent amount of super so I just really want to smash my mortgage while I can. When I feel like I’ve done that a bit more, I’ll probably go outside and invest in ETFs.

HAVE YOU EVER WRITTEN ABOUT BUYING FEWER COFFEES?

No! I’m not going to tell you how to write your Mindful Spending Manifesto! You need to decide what’s your splurge and enjoy it – then be clear about what you’re having and not having. You should see my premium spirits sideboard – there’s nothing on there that’s less than $70 or $80 a bottle, but I won’t buy cocktails at a bar. Everyone has their own thing that they have to work out. You shouldn’t have to feel bad about the things that make you feel good about your life, but you should put time and effort into thinking about them. Ask yourself whether the behaviours you’re engaging in bring you closer to your goals or push you away from them.

WHAT’S THE ONE THING YOU WANT EVERYONE TO KNOW ABOUT MONEY?

The thing I really want women to believe is that perfect is the enemy of done. There’s no perfect investment, there’s no perfect way of doing things – just do something. Don’t wait to be a perfectly informed investor – you don’t have to be Warren Buffett; there are so many small things to do like reviewing the dull insurance and consolidating your super. Get in there and have a go. You can always do a little bit better without having to be perfect.

Final note from Chief Fierce Girl: this isn’t a sponsored post or anything, but if you are wondering how to get started with investing, Six Park is totally worth checking out.

3 Key Investment Concepts explained by The Spice Girls

It’s Sunday morning, I still have glitter all over my face from last night’s Oxford St make-up, and I’m drinking coffee in bed. The only thing that could make today better is dropping some knowledge bombs on you all.

If you didn’t hear about the Great Disappointment of 2019, last week Mel B told us that The Spice Girls were coming to Australia, before clarifying that actually it was just a vague intention.

Anyway, since this Girl Power phenomenon was a huge formative influence on my life, I decided to give them their own Fierce Girl post. And sneak in some learning at the same time.

So, here I give you three important investment concepts they should really teach at school but usually don’t.

Capital Growth – this is when an investment or asset increases in value over time, without you having to do anything.

Capital Growth is the Spice Girls of the investment world. For that brief moment of joy where we thought the band was touring Australia, my friends and I considered how much we’d pay for tickets. ($1000 was too much, $999 we agreed was ok). Those girls haven’t made an album in decades but they get more valuable over time!

With assets, homes are the most common example of a capital growth play. We buy them and hope they’ll double in value every seven years and in a rising market, that does happen. But all markets follow a cycle, so if you buy at the wrong time, you may either miss out on capital growth, or see it go backwards. (Read this post for more info).

When people buy shares, they are often looking for capital growth, especially if it’s an up-and-coming company that doesn’t make a profit. You don’t get any dividends in this case, but hopefully in a few years those $1 shares are worth $5. I already wrote a whole post about how buying shares is like choosing husbands (here). But when I think about it, it’s kind of like creating a girl band. They could end up as the Spice Girls, or they could go the way of Bardot (sorry Sophie Monk).

Ouch, my nostalgia-o-meter just kicked into overdrive and I feel old AF

Yield – Income – Dividends

These are all basically the same thing, and refer to the cashola you earn from owning an asset. Also known as passive income.

Do you ever wonder how Sporty Spice seems to live an A-list lifestyle, even though we haven’t heard much from her since the 1999 dancefloor banger ‘I Turn to You‘?

Yep, that’s right, she’s living off royalties. Apparently all five girls have co-writer credits for their songs and get paid when people play or perform them.

This is the kind of passive income I want in my life, but since I have zero musical talent, and am probably past my prime girl-band age, I’ll have to buy some blue-chip shares instead.

Retirees are big on ‘yield stocks’ like Telstra and the Big Four banks, because they need  income to live on day-to-day.

For myself, as a young investor, I’d rather re-invest that income to grow my nest egg, and in fact many companies have an option for doing this. It’s called a Dividend Reinvestment Plan (I know, they could have catchier name). Say you have $1000 worth of Telstra shares and they pay a 7% dividend, instead of taking that $70 and putting it in the bank, they just give you $70 worth of their shares. It all happens automatically once you sign up for it, and you don’t need to pay a broker (which is normally the case for buying shares).

It’s as easy as letting Spotify create a Pop Queens playlist for you. (Athough, tbh, I’ve made my own and it’s great. You’re welcome).

When it comes to property, rent is the key income stream. If you have an investment property where the rental income is enough to cover the costs of the mortgage, strata and other bills, it means it’s positively geared. (‘Gearing’ refers to debt, so it basically means the income is greater than the cost of servicing the debt).

If the rent isn’t enough to cover the costs of owning the property,  you have to put your hand in your pocket to top it up. This means it’s negatively geared – as you’re making a loss on an investment.

If you’re thinking ‘wait, what, why would anyone want to make a loss on an investment?’ then you have obviously never experience my dating life, which is all about putting in more than I get out. (Although I’m down with that now).

The key insight here is that investment losses are tax deductible. So, say you have to cover $10,000 a year of investment property costs each year, you can reduce your taxable income by that amount. i.e. maybe get a sweet little tax refund.

Like, I see how this is good for people who hate paying tax to the government (ok, literally everyone). But I personally don’t relish the idea of finding extra money all the time, which is one of many reasons I don’t have an investment property. But if you do, that’s great and no judgement – you do you, boo!

I just think people get excited about negative gearing but forget they are still making a loss, AND the strategy relies on the property increasing in value (capital growth) to make it work. Which is not happening much at this point of the cycle, and also is dependent on where and what you buy.

Anyway, this isn’t meant to be a rant about Australians’ obsession with property, but a rant about how important the Spice Girls have been to our lives (if only I had a photo of my platform sneakers from 1997.) So let me get to the next point…

Diversification 

Of course there are more investments you can make than just shares or residential property. There are bonds, REITs, commodities, infrastructure etc. A sensible portfolio will have diversification, and that is exactly where the Spice Girls have excelled.

Each member is unique and brings something different. Well, I think Posh’s contribution is minimal, but someone may want to fight me over that comment.

When we were young women looking at the fab five, we could all identify with something, whether it was their hair colour, fashion sense or personality. Having a bit of everything helped to make a great band.

Finance is the same. If you just put all your money into property, then you might be missing out on the returns of shares, for example. These asset classes are often ‘uncorrelated’, which just means they do their own thing: while property is falling, the sharemarket could be soaring – which is happening right now. So if you have a bit of each, you spread the risk. When Ginger Spice was in a bad place of eating disorders, yoga videos and questionable solo songs, Posh was marrying Becks. Markets and people all move in their own cycles.

Wow, this was quite a long post so if you’ve stuck with it, well done. Your prize is a night on the Spice Girls red bus, which is now an Air BnB. Enjoy!

Sleep well surrounded by 90s nostalgia, Fierce Girls!

3 useful things to help you win the war on adulting

I’ve been adulting hard in 2019. I  finished a bathroom renovation and I got my car registered. Ok, maybe my dad took the car for a service and inspection, but I most definitely did the paperwork.

Anyway it got me thinking about what it means to be a fully functioning adult. Because even though I’m now 40 (wtf), I sometimes feel like a 21 year old, just trying to keep all that adulting, life-admin shit together. (Hence why my dad steps in now and then).

I don’t even have kids and I find it hard – so let me salute all the ladies out there who can deal with car rego and school permission slips (do they even have them anymore or is there some sort of app?). Anyway, I don’t know how you do it all.

But when it comes to money, I am doing ok. So I want to share with you a few things that every girl should have as a serious, responsible adult. This is not an exhaustive list, obviously, but it’s not a bad place to start.

1. A stash of emergency cash – An emergency is not a new outfit for a wedding that you forgot about. It’s your car breaking down and needing expensive repairs; it’s your hot water system exploding and needing immediate replacement; it’s getting out of a bad relationship that’s affecting your mental health.

The spectrum of reasons is wide, but the solution is the same: put at least a few thousand dollars aside with a different bank  –  so that you can’t see or easily access it in your everyday banking. Ideally, you want to have three months of living expenses in there. But if you can only manage a hundred or a thousand, do that and keep building a little at a time.

Some is better than none, so don’t let the ‘three month emergency fund’ rule keep you from getting on top of it.

2. A good banking or budgeting app – One thing I’ve learnt about money is that it’s a needy friend. Your bank account is totally NOT OK with sporadic texts and comments on her Insta posts.

She wants you to check in with her all the time, see how she’s feeling, has she been too busy, is she feeling sick, did someone absolutely flog her on the weekend at a bar around midnight. Ya know, the usual.

We really need to be frequently reviewing our spending, looking for cost overruns and also checking there are no suspicious transactions (cybercrime is real, y’all). Otherwise it becomes an avoidance thing of ‘God I don’t even want to look’. And a spiral of stress.

The next level of adulting to consider is a budgeting app that helps you set up buckets of money and lets you know if you’ve hit them. This is for the advanced level saver, and I know it’s not everyone’s gig. But something to consider.

When I feel like I’m getting a bit outta control, I track every dollar I spend (as per my new year resolution). I enter it into the TrackMySpend app, and it shows me where all my money goes. I like to enter it in manually  (as opposed to just reviewing my bank transactions), because it makes me think about each purchase.

In a cashless world, it’s easy to ignore exactly how much cash you’re dropping. So this is one way to create an additional mental barrier. (And yes, ‘Personal & Medical’ category, I see you and your outsize contribution. So what if I spent $400 at the naturopath? I haven’t even been to Priceline, so there).

3. A decent income protection policy

I know this is boring, but seriously, what happens if you can’t work because you’re really, seriously sick. Cancer, depression, an accident.

For a while there I was paying for this through my superannuation. Which is totally fine and if you do this, then great. I ended up getting a professional insurance review (for free, when I worked in a financial planning company). The outcome is a Rolls Royce policy that even pays my super if I can’t work. It’s very expensive, and I wince when I pay it every month.

HOWEVER, I am a single gal with no safety net other than my family, so I want the best. And then I hear about people like Kim, who beat breast cancer at 30 and had a double mastectomy; and is now battling cancer a decade later. Or the guy I met on the weekend (who is super cute and sweet, but that’s not relevant). He was in a car accident at 22 and spent four months in a coma before having to relearn pretty much everything in subsequent years, due to traumatic brain injury.

And I think damn, I guess I can afford it.

So, if you have an income, you should probably insure it. Talk to your super fund if you aren’t sure how to get started. (Also, note this is not the same as Life and TPD insurance that comes as a default; you need to add it yourself with most super funds).

Read more about the exciting topic of insurance here! We’re all going to die – so let’s just talk about it here, then move on

And that, my friends, is a completely randomly chosen list of things to help you win the war on adulting.

How much is enough? And other deep questions raised by Netflix

It seems like everyone is talking about Marie Kondo, the Japanese tidying-up queen. Her book even spawned a new verb: to KonMari.

Marie Kondo is now on Netflix, where she helps people who have become smothered by their own ‘stuff’, exhorting them to ponder each item and ask ‘Does this spark joy?’. (If it doesn’t, it’s out.)

I’m a fan of the concept.

When I left my marriage, I basically just took my clothes and shoes. Well, ok.  I also took the  Tupperware, the Le Creuset and my Mundial knife. A girl’s gotta cook.

I started again, and it was strangely liberating.

Yet how quickly we acquire more things. I’ve told myself no more kitchenware, but it’s hard. I recently gushed with envy over a friend’s omelette pan.

Which brings me to the a question I’ve been pondering for a while now: how do we know when we have enough?

Enough what, you ask?

Anything, really.

The big challenge of our modern lives and disposable incomes is simply saying no.

When you have money, there’s always more you can buy.

Maybe it’s one more cheap T-shirt. Maybe it’s another pair of designer heels. Maybe it’s one more eyeshadow palette, to get one particular colour.

Whatever your thing, you have the ability and opportunity to continuing indulging in it.

But there comes a point, hopefully before Marie Kondo has to step in, when it’s time to ask the question: is this enough?

It might be that you’re running out of space (or money).

Maybe you have so many Lorna Jane crop tops you struggle to rotate them efficiently (I hear that’s a thing, wouldn’t know myself).

Maybe your wife gets cranky at all the space your bikes are taking up in the garage (sorry dad).

Or maybe you just start feeling guilty about the impact you’re having on the earth.

I’ve been talking to people about this to get their view on this thorny topic.

I asked a girlfriend at work how many work outfits are enough. ‘Ten’, she replied. Two weeks of new outfits, then rotate again. ‘After all, a man normally has a couple of suits and ten shirts’.

The girls in the team nodded thoughtfully, then all agreed that was a preposterous notion. We could quite literally wear a new outfit for a month without duplicating it.

Which really gives you pause for thought. (And hopefully I have that pause, next time I’m in a changeroom.)

Pick your vices

My dad’s advice is to try and limit your number of vices to one. He has chosen bikes, and associated bike gear, as his vice. He claims to have culled to the very reasonable number of three. His wife remains unconvinced, but this is a woman with a chandelier in every room, so I’m not sure she’s blameless.

And if we all have our different vices, we also need to have things we’re happy to be a tight-arse about.

I have an obscene amount of fancy activewear, but use a Kmart handbag. My friend has an obscenely large collection of designer bags,  but buys cheap gymwear. We revel in judging each other about it.

It all comes back to mindful spending (more about that here). This is a concept that I have been spruiking for a while now. Amazingly, this week I spoke to someone who has adopted it!

She said it helps her when she’s having that moment in a store, for example, wondering whether she ‘needs’ a new top, or is just buying it for the sake of it.

But what I like about this approach is that it can actually give you freedom, not just constraints. Mindful spending helps you pinpoint those things that ‘spark joy’ and allocate resources that way. Guilt-free, by the way.

So there is no easy answer to ‘how much is enough?’, but there are definitely some road signs to help us on the journey to find out.

 

What if you’re actually smarter with money than you think?

Do you ever read about finance and feel dumb?

Me too.

I know, I know. “If Chief Fierce Girl feels challenged by the murky world of money, what hope do I have?”. But stay with me.

It’s all about gatekeeping: if people make money sound complicated, then you will definitely need their expertise to help you, right? And pay for it, of course.

And look, investment can be complicated. I studied it, and it was haaaard. I might have cried a little while trying to calculate franking credits.

However, that’s the pointy end of finance. There’s also a soft, welcoming end that is actually not that complicated at all.

I summed it up when I introduced you to the Four Friends Who Will Make You Rich. (Read it here, it’s low-key one of my best).

And so it annoys me to see the tone of ‘talking down’ that seems to pervade the finance world.

It makes financial success seem harder than it is.

I came across this finance industry research recently, that claimed to be ‘alarmed’ by the poor financial literacy of Australians.

But when I read the questions it was based on, they were really tricky. They were phrased like those multiple choice questions in an exam where you question yourself,  freak out, and start worrying. Like maybe it’s A but what if it’s B and I don’t know if C sounds ok and maybe I’m just stupid and I should probably go home *. (*Actual internal monologue from my last finance exam).

Look, I agree we could do better on the financial literacy front. But it would also be good if the professionals would stop telling us how dumb we are.

What if they gave us a message of empowerment and encouragement?

What if they said ‘Focus on what you do know, boo, and go from there!’.

Well, they don’t have to, because I am telling you all of that. Don’t assume that you don’t have the smarts to nail your finances, because you totally do.  

In fact, here are some totally easy things you can do today (or tomorrow, if you’re tired. No pressure, take a nap if you like).

Save in your sleep. The easiest/only way to save properly is to do it before you get your sticky fingers on it. Set up an auto-transfer  into a savings account for the day you get paid.

Or see if your bank does round-ups, where it takes little amounts and stashes them away for you.

I know ING does, because those annoying Isla Fisher ads told me. I guess they work huh.

Invest while you spend. One step further to the round-ups mentioned above, apps like Raiz take little bits of your money and invest them for you.

I used to be in love with it, but it won’t sync to my Macquarie bank accounts so it’s kind of dead to me now. But if you want to dip your toe in the water of investing, check it out.

Some super funds do it now too, so check your fund’s website

Own your super savings.  Ok, it’s not a sexy topic, but a tiny bit of effort makes a big difference. With just one or two calls, you can cross that shit off your to-do list for years.

Step 1: roll your multiple accounts into one. If you’re paying multiple fees and insurance STOP THAT NOW. It’s literally throwing money away. And guess what, your primary fund will do the hard work for you. Call them up and ask! A friend of mine did it recently and was stoked with how easy it was.

How do you choose your primary fund? Fees and returns. But if you can’t be bothered reading a bunch of websites, the big industry funds like Australian Super, HESTA, REST, First State, Hostplus and CBUS are pretty competitive. You are possibly in one already from your days in retail or hospitality. Within those big players there isn’t a lot of difference, so don’t overthink if it means not making any decision.

When you speak to your chosen fund, you should also ask them about your investment option. If you don’t choose one proactively, you get shoved into the default.

Now I don’t know about you, but I am not a default kinda girl. I don’t want to be in the same option as 60 year old Susan.

Given my age (young and cool), I can tolerate more risk for the chance of more return. So I’m in the high-growth option. Your fund should be able to provide what’s called ‘simple advice’ to help you decide (for no cost).

I swear, just doing these things, and making sure they have your correct contact details), can make thousands of dollars difference to you when you retire. (I have a whole post about super if you’re really interested: click here).

So anyway, did you see what I did there – started off with a motivational post and snuck in a whole section on super!

I know, I’m tricksy. Sorry not sorry. But let me get back to the original point – making good choices with your money doesn’t need a degree. It is a series of small decisions, made over time. And every good one helps.

You got this, so go forth and be fierce!

Don’t get mad, get busy*

*Actually, get mad too. It’s fun.

Fierce Girls, I wrote a different post for you last week. But before I had time to post it, the election happened.

It didn’t go the way I’d hoped. I got together with a few friends to watch it unfold on ABC, and it was like the worst party ever. (Great food, wine and company notwithstanding).

But maybe you voted for the LNP Government, and hey that’s cool, because this is a democracy. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s far better than the alternatives.

In the same week though, Alabama passed some of the most punitive and backwards abortion laws in the world. If you’ve somehow missed it, this is some next-level Handmaid’s Tale shit.

Anyway, this is not an election analysis.

It’s about power.

Cynicism is our greatest enemy. And the antidote is activism.

I’m paraphrasing Billy Bragg, one of the greatest influences on my life.

I know you’re not ready to rise up in the streets and stuff, and I’m not saying you have to. Activism takes many forms.

So does power, and it’s not all in the corridors of Parliament House.

One way to wield power is through your wallet.

From nailing your bank account to reining in frivolous spending, money is one of the most effective ways to give the finger to the patriarchy.

Every dollar you earn and own is another way to increase your choices.

Every time you put money towards buying a home, investing for the future or creating a savings fund, you are putting more space between you and chaos.

Because if there’s one thing the powerful men of the world worked out a long time ago, it’s that money equals power.

That’s why I ask, nay implore you, to think about how you spend it.

I know this sounds like a feminist conspiracy theory, but anyway… The more we’re convinced to allocate our resources to beauty, fashion and anti-ageing, the more power we concede.

I’m not saying never have a facial. I’m not saying don’t buy a Fenty Beauty palette (because holy shit, it’s great).

I’m just saying that if you are spending hundreds of dollars on fillers and botox before you’ve set up an emergency fund, you are not stepping into your full power.

Or that if you have bought a new dress for every wedding you’ve attended, while your partner has rolled out his five-year-old suit again and again, you’re possibly not making the most of your money.

And if you would like to see Paris before you die, but you accidentally keep spending money on twenty-dollar cocktails and cabs home, it might be time to take a different approach.

A long time ago, my friend Gigi and I cooked up this great list of money-saving tips (which went low-key viral btw). Read it here.

And I want to give a shoutout to Gigi, because she is the Fierce Girl we all need.

Girlfriend packed herself up and moved to New York City eight years ago. She rents an adorable little apartment in the East Village with her cat Iris, living her best life as a single gal. Kind of like Sex and the City minus the designer clothes and poor choices in men.

And she has also been saving like a trooper, and is very close to buying her own apartment in Manhattan. #goalsAF

Gigi and I still have mad holidays together and go out drinking and make questionable decisions late at night. But we also respect the fact that we can’t have all the things, all the time. And so we make our own lunches, buy things on sale and catch public transport.

Anyway, this is a really long way of saying please take charge of your money. Do it for yourself and for the sisterhood. As Queen Bey says, “Best revenge is your paper”.

Perhaps make a Mindful Spending Manifesto and see if you can stick to it. That way you have more chance of reaching your short- and long-term life goals – regardless of whichever pale, stale and male PM is in power.

 

The single biggest risk to your money is probably not what you think

There is one thing that can change your financial path forever, and it’s not betting on the share market. It’s not entering the Gucci store. It’s not even buying a house.

It’s walking down the aisle.

When you get hitched to a partner, you’re hitching your wagon to their financial future. And even if you’re already married, please read on, because this is literally one of the most important posts I am ever going to write on here.

I know it’s easy for me to sound like the bitter divorcee who lost money in a divorce settlement. (I did, but I am less bitter about it these days).

That’s not what this post is about. I’m at the age (40) where marriages are starting to fall apart. I see it among friends, acquaintances and friends of friends. After all, the most common age for getting a divorce is 45.5 for men and 42.9 for women (ABS).

Like any long-term decision, marriage is a calculated risk. There is a 1 in 3 chance it will end in divorce. If someone offered you a raffle where 1 in 3 tickets offered a prize, you’d jump right in.

And yet, so many people get married without even considering the ‘what if?’. The suggestion of a pre-nup, or to not change your surname, is taken offensively.

We are socialised to believe that romantic love is the most important part of marriage. This is a relatively recent development (it took off with the rise of the Romantic novel in the 18th century).

For thousands of years, though, marriage was  an economic and child-bearing union. (Well, more of a takeover than a union, because the man got to control all the woman’s wealth once it was done).

Our ancestors were generally more clear-eyed about the fact that marriage is about far more than love. And in the age of Instagram weddings, it’s easy to forget there’s a shitload more at stake than a perfect photo album.

Once you’re married, everything you earn and own belongs to you both. Louder for the people at the back!

This is fantastic when you’re sharing and building together. But if it falls apart, everything you have worked for can be pooled together and a line drawn down it. (And that line may not be in the middle.)

Not only that, you will likely have to start over in a practical sense. New life, new home, new furniture, new insurance, new kitchenware. The things I own today bear very little resemblance to what I owned five years ago.

There is another big complicating factor in all of this: children. If you bring kids into the picture, there’s a good chance you’ll take career breaks that mean you earn less, reduce your super and even stunt your career progression.

Sorry, I know this sounds terribly unromantic and depressing. But hey, we aren’t just here for the LOLs; we’re here for the learning too.

A little bit of planning goes a long way

So I want you to consider marriage (or even de facto living) in this way: there’s a high chance it will be great and last forever. But there’s also a chance that it won’t.

It’s like car accidents – you really hope you won’t have one, and mostly you don’t. But guess what, you have to insure that vehicle every year anyway.

So I want to position this concept as Independence Insurance (thanks to a friend came up with this phrase, you know who you are).

This is the kind of insurance you take out regardless of how happy your relationship is. Because you just never fucking know.

Bae might come in one day and say s/he’s leaving. Maybe you catch them cheating (hey, if Beyonce isn’t safe, who the fuck is). Or the red flags you ignored before, gradually become so big and red you can’t stay, without harming your mental health or your kids’.

The progression of every break up is different, but the one thing they all have in common is the sense that ‘it wasn’t meant to end like this’.

So what does Independence Insurance involve? Well, the good news is, you don’t have to buy it or renew it or find the paperwork for it every year. It’s more about keeping some things in your control.

Always have at least one bank account in your own name. Up to you how much you have in there. I think at least a couple of thousand is a good start. Not only can you buy surprise presents with it, you can also get the fuck out of dodge if you need to. Honestly, this is such a simple thing to do and if I could go back and change one thing about my marriage, it would be this.

Have a car in your own name. If you only have one car, you may have to battle this one out. But if you have two, have one in your name. In NSW you can’t have two owners on the registration (not sure about other states), which is bloody annoying. But if things turn bitter and your partner has their name on both cars, guess what, s/he can keep them both. Happened to someone I know. Her ex has their two cars sitting in the driveway and she can’t do anything about it until they go to court (some years hence).

Don’t stop investing in your career and earning power. I know, this one is a lot more work than opening a bank account. But think of the women you’ve seen struggle after divorce because they put their own career on the backburner, to raise kids. It’s true, childcare is eye-wateringly expensive, but you need to think about the cost of not working. Not in today’s salary terms, but in the many decades from now if you’ve fallen behind your peers. Or you’ve kept low-stress, flexible, low-paid part-time jobs and now find you’re stuck there.

As my friend said, she never again wants to wake up and feel like she’s trapped in a relationship because she can’t afford to leave.

Take an interest in the financial paperwork. If you’re the spouse who leaves this stuff to your partner, it might seem like they are doing you a favour. But it has a lot of risk too. When I was married, I was the only one who knew how to access our mortgage redraw. If I was a bitch (which I am obviously not, ok), I could have easily drained thousands of dollars out of it, spent it, and he would neither have known nor had any recourse. Paperwork and banking is the worst, but it’s also the key to staying in control, as it gives you full visibility of your position.

Ok let me stop now and apologise if I sound a little preachy. I just want us all to be the best version of ourselves, and that means being realistic even as we are hopeful. I have more on this topic, so stay tuned.

And let me tell you I very much believe in romantic love. Just not as it applies to me haha.

 

3 things I learnt in the Christian Louboutin store

It was the outcome of a conversation at work. Long story, but I decided I needed a pair of designer heels to signal to the world that I was serious. I wanted to prove (to myself, mostly) that I’m a successful, grown-up woman who can do all the serious career things.

And so, my friend who lives and breathes designer shopping, excitedly took me to Pitt Street the very next day.

I had some major ‘Julia Roberts on Rodeo Drive’ vibes to be honest. I pretended like I go into stores that sell thousand-dollar shoes all the time, but as you can guess, I have literally never been in one.

Anyway, I didn’t buy any. It was a little disappointing in the end – not for my wallet, which was totally supportive of my decision. Definitely for my friend.

But life is full of unexpected lessons, so here are some thoughts I had following the great Designer Shoe Store Trail of 2019.

  1. Price does not equal comfort. I had this idea that if you paid a lot of money, these heels would magically not hurt your feet. This is a lie! In fact, those Louboutins were red-soled harbingers of death to the balls of your feet. Also, my ‘plump’ feet didn’t really fit into them or any of the fancy brands, except Salvatore Ferragamo, which is made for well-heeled (pun intended) ladies of a certain age who brunch in Double Bay.
  2. It’s hard to rewrite your money script. I’m a massive tight-arse when it comes to clothes and shoes. Who was I kidding? Like yeah, I’ll shop at the usual suspects like Wittner and Nine West, but I ain’t paying full-price. So it’s hard – impossible even – to go from $100 for a pair of shoes to literally ten times that. And then I started thinking about all Nike Air Maxes I could get for that much (to add to the slightly obscene collection already going). Well, anyway, is it any surprise that I abandoned the whole plan? This isn’t a bad thing – it’s part of mindful spending to know what you’re willing to drop your hard-earned dollars on. Or not.
  3. Self-confidence is about what you think, not what you wear. Sorry if this sounds like a motivational quote from Instagram. Like, it’s still important to look polished and professional. But I was expecting that buying some shoes would convince me that I’m legit. Maybe banish some of my impostor syndrome feelings. It turns out the only way to do that is through some serious inner work. Ugh, so much harder than just going shopping. In fact, that’s how it always is. Buying stuff is never a replacement for self-development. Annoying!

‘Don’t ask, don’t get’ – and other life pro tips for IWD2019

In my view, every day should be International Women’s Day. We have thousands of years of patriarchal oppression to make up for right? But since it’s only once a year, I’m writing in honour of it.

Normally I just talk about ‘money this’ and ‘finance that’, but today I’m sharing a random collection of life and career tips that I’ve collected over the years.

While I sometimes think I could have pushed harder and been more successful by now, I’m not a total failure in the old ‘adulting’ department. So here is some of my hard-won knowledge.

  1. Don’t ask, don’t get

If I could only choose one piece of advice this would be it. It’s just as useful in the bedroom as the boardroom, to be honest. Women who don’t articulate their desires are far less likely to have them met.

I used to just get given a payrise or promotion and be like ‘wow, thanks!’. Never occurred to me to ask for more – which is actually a thing you can and should do. Similarly, when you’re making a big purchase, why not ask for a discount?

So now I ask, no matter how uncomfortable it makes me feel (i.e. a lot). Maybe you get a ‘no’, but maybe you get a ‘yes’.

Whereas if you don’t ask, you’ve given yourself a ‘no’ from the outset.

  1. It’s not about having time, it’s about having priorities

People ask me how I have time to do all this food prep and go to the gym five days a week, and all the other stuff that means I can wear sequin hot pants at age 40. I make time because it’s a priority.

I have no kids or husband to deal with, so I actually have plenty of time.

If you do have kids or a crazy job, and can’t make time for that stuff, then that’s cool too. Your priorities are different. It’s not wrong, you’re not lazy, it’s just a fact of modern life.

Money helps in this situation. If buying pre-packaged meals helps you hit your calorie target, then do it. If getting a personal trainer means you optimise your time in the gym, then invest. If you can pay a cleaner and steal back two hours of your life, then why not?

Sure, we should be responsible with our money, but we should also be realistic. We all have competing priorities – the key is to work out the order they go in, and build a life around that, with no judgement and minimal guilt trips.

  1. Choose a leader, not a job

I’ve been so lucky in my career, working for talented people who taught me a lot. My first boss taught me everything I know about PR, even if she shouted at me now and then. My editorial director in a London book company was inspiring even if she described me as ‘bossy and opinionated’ (in an affectionate way). This week I attended a retirement dinner for the man who told me I was a shit writer, then turned me into a good one. And my current boss has taught me that ‘no’ is just the start of a negotiation.

However, the thing they have in common is that they weren’t just managers, they were leaders whose values I was aligned with.

So the point I’d make is this. When you’re planning your next career move, look for a leader you’d follow into a fire. It’s not always about the company brand, or the title you’ll get, or even the money. Find yourself a boss you like, who sees you as a person, not just a resource – and you’ll go further at work.

  1. Be your own cheerleader

It’s great to have someone who spots your talent and rewards you accordingly. But people are busy and focused on their own stuff. Simply doing a great job isn’t enough to help you climb the ladder.

You need to make your case and highlight your good work. I know, that sounds awkward AF.

Drawing attention to your wins, describing yourself positively, pushing your case in a performance review: they all sound about as comfortable as a strapless bra that’s a size too small.

This week I had to write an announcement about myself for my boss to send to all staff. At first I was all like ‘oh I sound like a douchebag’.

And then I was like ‘oh stop it, who cares, you’re the head of PR and if you don’t PR the shit out of yourself, who will?’. So, I pretended I was writing it about someone else, and it was totally fine.

So my main point here is, cheerleading for yourself is not a natural or comfortable thing for most women – but do it anyway, like Rihanna putting her own damn crown on.

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