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The Fierce Girl's Guide to Finance

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Four things I learnt in my 38th year on Earth

It’s my birthday, but YOU get the presents!

Ok that was super cheesy but I just wanted to say it. The good thing about a December birthday is that you get to do a ‘reflections on the year’ post and combine it with a birthday post.

I am totally not one of those people who’s all like ‘oh I don’t like to make a fuss about my birthday’. I am like ‘bow down bitches’.

Me on my birthday

So, during my 38th trip around the sun, here are some things I learnt:

1. Success flows where attention goes – I know this sounds like a lame motivational motto, but go with me here. In the time I have been writing this blog, I have been thinking about money a lot. And in that time, I have upped my salary, boosted my savings, bought a property and generally got ahead. (It also helped that I settled a long-drawn-out divorce, but more on that below.)

Now I am not saying you need to start a finance blog (don’t steal my idea, bitches). But by making a conscious decision to focus on money,  and checking in regularly, you have a much better chance of succeeding.

You also need to plan like a boss, but don’t worry, I gotcha. Check out my worksheet!

2. The best investments you make are in yourself – This isn’t code for ‘treat yoself’; I’m not saying to drop your cash on botox or hair extensions. I mean educating or improving yourself.

I was falling into some patterns, mainly with men, that weren’t serving me well. So, I decided to see a counsellor and clean out all the mental detritus from the marriage and divorce.

Turns out I had a fair bit to unpack from my younger years, my own family breakdown and just the general trauma we pick up from playing this contact sport called life. It has been so worthwhile – there is enormous power in someone else looking at your life experiences and helping you make sense of them.

But it doesn’t have to be doing the inner work. I also graduated from my Applied Finance course, and it means that when The Daily Mail calls me a ‘finance expert’, I feel legit.

So, don’t be afraid to spend on important stuff that makes you a better person. (But always get the best deal, of course!)

3. Valuing yourself is hard but important work – I already wrote about my failures to demand what I’m worth in my last jobs (check it out here). I still struggle with this, but this year I have done better. For example, I set a freelance rate and was shocked and delighted when people agreed to it.

I still struggle with all of this stuff, but I feel like I am more aware and more committed to asking for money, as I get older and tougher and more woke.

4. Divorce is expensive – Well duh, you say. And maybe if I had a different kind of relationship, it would have been a swift and amicable split. But it wasn’t. Now, I’m not throwing a pity party – I just want to alert you to some facts that you don’t generally learn until it’s too late:

  • Your super is part of your marital estate.  I have been a superannuation-nerd since my 20s, making lots of extra contributions. It all went into the pot to get split up, so I had to give a big chunk of it away. Most women have less super than their husbands, but if you are in the minority who doesn’t – be warned. I don’t know exactly what you can do to avoid it – you can’t even spend it because it’s stuck in super. My dad told me to stop paying extra contributions when things were on the rocks (because he is smarter than me). I was slow to do that, which I regret. I could have just spent it on champagne and oysters instead of giving it away.
  • It doesn’t matter who earned what – it all gets split. In some  twist of law, the person who earns more, gets less. Something to do with future earnings – which I translate as ‘the tax for ruining your ex’s future’. So, yeah, even though I earned more, and we had no kids, I walked away with less than half. Again, not a lot I can recommend here other than Swiss bank accounts.

Getting to those outcomes was a hard, costly and emotional war of attrition. But it’s done, I’m in my new place and the future lies ahead.

All up…

It’s been awesome, ladies. To be honest, creating and building this community is the best thing I have done in a long time. To everyone who reads, shares, comments and puts it into practice – I love you all. Thanks for being my Fierce Girls.

Some realtalk about buying property – and how to get it done

I’ve changed my mind about something. Something important.

I’ve said on this blog before that if you don’t buy your own home to live in, it’s not the end of the world. As long as you choose some other way to build your wealth, you don’t have to freak out about not getting on the property ladder.

And financially speaking, that holds true.

But I think I missed something important: human emotion.

Having just settled into the new apartment I bought, I realised I’d been denying something to myself. I like having my own ‘patch of dirt’. It fulfils a deep human desire to be settled and to feel some control over my destiny.

This feeling was compounded by the dramas of trying to get my bond back. The exit cleaners didn’t do a good enough job, so I found myself Gumptioning walls in my lunch hour.

A detail was missed in my ingoing condition report, so I was accused of leaving holes in a wall. And then there was the threat to make me pay for an electrician to change a light bulb that was out.

I fought tooth and nail, and in the end they only withheld $8.80 for said light bulb. But it reminded me of the way the cards are stacked against renters in this country, along with short leases and pet bans.

So, this is my advice for the yet-to-be-homeowners. Do everything you can to get your foot onto the first rung of the property ladder.

It might take a while, and it might mean making sacrifices, but it’s one of the most important things you can do with your money.

“But wait”, I hear you say. “I’ll never afford a property in this crazy market”.

And if you’re in the very lowest income band, that may be the case. But for someone earning  decent (or even ok) money, especially early in your career, it’s totally possible.  And here are three ways you can go about it.

Rentvesting – There are two hard parts of buying a property to live in. Scraping up the deposit and then repaying the loan (known in the industry as ‘servicing’).

If you go down the route of buying where you can afford and renting where you want to live, you remove that second challenge by having rental income.

If you live in Sydney or Melbourne, being a first home buyer is really bloody hard. There aren’t really any bargain suburbs left, even on the outskirts.

But if you look elsewhere, median house prices look far more manageable. Perhaps it’s just out of town, like the Central Coast or the Bellarine Peninsula. Or it might be regional, such as Wagga Wagga or Ballarat. Or a smaller capital city such as Hobart or Adelaide.

I am not giving you hot tips on all of these as investment property destinations. I’m simply naming places where you can pick up a house for the price of a small garage in Sydney.

How do you work out where to buy? Well you can do a ton of research yourself, looking at the supply and demand drivers. Talk to people in the area. Visit it for yourself.

Or you can work with professionals whose job it is to research these things, and provide recommendations.

I am most definitely NOT talking about the guys who try and spruik you an off-the-plan development in the outskirts of a holiday town.

No, I’m talking about real professionals whom you pay for their services. Like any such adviser, choose carefully, look at their results with other clients and use your bullshit detector. But for the clueless or nervous, this can be a useful way to avoid buying a dog of an investment in a far-flung place.

Family Guarantees – This approach works where you have the ability to service a loan (i.e. a decent income) but trouble saving a sizeable deposit. Your parents can use the equity in their own home to act in place of a deposit. Say you have 5% saved for a $500,000 property, but need 20%. They promise to cover the missing 15% if anything goes wrong and you default on the mortgage.

This is different to just getting a lump sum gift from the parentals (let’s admit, that’s the dream solution). It means they don’t have to actually come up with the cash (unless things go wrong – see below).

Of course there are risks involved. The biggest is that you default and the lender demands some or all of that money your parents promised. Some lenders also require the guarantor (i.e. your folks) to cover the mortgage repayments if you fall behind yourself.

And lenders will generally require the parents to get independent legal advice before going ahead, so that’s an additional cost.

You’ll still need to prove your ability to save and be a responsible adult – lenders want to see proof of ‘genuine savings’. But family guarantees can get you into your own place sooner and avoid the cost of Lenders Mortgage Insurance (which banks hit you with if you have less than a 20% deposit).

Play the long game – Maybe it’s going to take you five or ten years to cobble enough together for a home. But in the Monopoly game of life, that’s not actually very long. If you live to 85 that’s less than 10% of your life!

It drives me nuts when I hear people say things like ‘well I’ll never afford to own property so I’ll just spend my money and enjoy myself’.

No! Just because you can’t afford it now, doesn’t mean you can’t ever afford it.

First of all, there’s the power of compound interest: 10 years of slow and steady socking away will actually see you get some free money in there too.

Secondly, just because you earn this much now doesn’t mean you will forever. You can climb the ladder, increase your education, change career, start a side hustle, marry money … ok scrap that last one. But seriously, there is always an opportunity to do more, be more and earn more than you do now. So don’t rule out a big goal.

The hardest part in a long game is staying motivated. If your timeline is five years, saying no to another overseas trip or buying clothes from Kmart instead of Lorna Jane can get old real quick.

So, don’t be afraid to do things like set SMART goals, make a vision board (as cheesy as it sounds) and track your progress regularly. Hey, maybe even ‘treat yoself’ to a reasonably priced reward when you hit milestones.

I have a plan to pay off my mortgage in 12-15 years (depending on what interest rates do), so some of this stuff will be going on in my little world.

I have specific and aggressive retirement goals, and this is what will keep me from making poor decisions about money.

I’ll never give up martinis, but will I drop twenty bucks on them in a fancy bar? Hell to the no! (I will totally make them at home.)

Oh hey, homemade martini!

That’s because I have done the numbers on repayments, and I know that paying an extra $250 a month can cut five years off my mortgage. And then I think about not having to get up and schlep to an office five days a week, because I’m doing my own semi-retired thing, and it motivates me!

So, my message to you is: don’t despair! With a clear goal and some good behaviours, you too will one day have the pleasure of telling your property manager to get fucked. (Note: this only happened in my head, not out loud).

 

 

 

When should I pay other people to do stuff?

Sometimes, it pays to pay a professional.

Anyone who has ever walked out of a salon with a kick-arse blowdry knows this. Never in my life have I got my hair as good as Millie can. I always book an appointment on a day that I have some major social event, so I don’t waste that hotness.

Look at that salon-perfect hair!

But there are other important things we should pay for in life. I’m often surprised how people who would spend a hundred bucks on drinks and dinner, will blanch at the idea of spending that to see a health professional.

So, I want to have a conversation about things that might be a really good investment, even though you have to shell out some cash.

Some of these have a material return on investment, while others just have a positive impact on your life. But it’s a version of mindful spending – ‘how am I going to deploy my money in a way that gives me the most happiness?’.

1. A financial adviser – I know, you expected me to say this. And I don’t think everyone needs an adviser at every stage of their lives. But there are some points where it makes a lot of sense. For example:

Getting married – Do not tell me that you can drop upwards of $20k on a wedding but can’t spend a couple of grand on a Statement of Advice. Or, you could be really sensible and spend some of your wishing well money on it.

Getting hitched is a good opportunity to map out a financial future together, and ensure you’re on the same page about it.

Many couples miss this crucial goal-setting convo, and muddle along with different ideas of what they’re trying to achieve. Conflict ensues (every time you bring home new shoes).

Having kiddoes – This is more about getting your insurance sorted. If you’re responsible for  tiny humans, you need to think about  life, trauma and income protection insurance to protect them. If something happened to you, would your partner have the resources to keep working, cover childcare, educate the kids and pay a mortgage … until the kids are all grown up?

Australians are  woefully underinsured for things like this. But you can talk to a financial adviser just for an insurance review (i.e. you don’t get a full financial plan) and the fees are pretty low – under $500 in the network I work for. Sometimes they may even waive them (because they get a commission). Definitely worth looking at.

Becoming a grown up – I know, there is no real test for this point. But I think there is a solid case for sitting down with a professional at some point around your late 20s – early 30s mark. You’ve been working for a few years now, you’ve saved some money (or not) and you want to genuinely get your shit together.

But there are so many options! Speaking to an expert can help you clarify your goals and give you comfort that you’re on the right track. I went through this process at age 29 and even though none of the life plan worked out (the kids, the marriage etc), it was a great, educational process and taught me a lot about goal setting. (Side note – I didn’t actually implement the advice because it was very heavy on investing in equities, and I was worried about the markets. This was early 2008. In all of the good calls I ever made financially, this was the best).

Of course there are other triggers for seeing an adviser – these are just a few. So how do you find a good one? Well, same way you find a good hairdresser, to be honest.

Ask friends and family, look at testimonials, search online. Make sure they are qualified and part of a reputable group that holds an AFSL. Ask about their qualifications, and see if you like them in your first consultation, which is generally free. If the vibe isn’t right, look for someone else. Basically, find someone whom you trust and seems legit.

Then filter their advice with your own thinking and preferences – just the same as if your hairdresser were to say ‘I think you should try a fringe’ and you know you hate having one. That’s what I did, way back in 2008.

I worked with finance clients, I could see the sub-prime crisis brewing, my boss and I discussed how heated the market was – and I held off. Why didn’t my adviser do this? Well, I think people who are ‘in’ the industry often fit the old cliche: when you’ve got a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Just like the sales lady in Kookai is going to tell you that a Kookai dress is the best solution to your birthday outfit quandary, an adviser probably wants to sell you a financial product. It’s up to you to decide if your bum looks big in it.

A Personal Trainer – I know, this blog is about money, not fitness. But I want to address this because a lot of people question spending money on a PT. Is it just an extravagance?

If you get a good one, it’s not. A good PT will push you to your limits (“just killing me enough” is a great description for my coach), correct your technique and create variety that makes your body respond and change.

I question the value of some PTs I see in the gym: having a chat, watching you go through the motions, being your bestie.

If you don’t hate your PT a little, for the hour they’re training you, you should probably find a new one.

I first went to my coach when I’d hit a plateau – I wanted to get leaner and stronger but couldn’t do it alone. Years of powerlifting later, I am both of those things (although annoyingly, my triceps mean I can hardly wear any suit jackets).

I have experienced both elation and disappointment in getting there. I’ve cried with frustration in deadlift sessions, celebrated PBs, competed in events and made my body do stuff I never imagined it could.

For me, that’s worth the money I spend. If you’re plateaued, frustrated with results, finding it hard to stay on track, or ready to push yourself to new places, get a good PT.

The caveat on this is – if you can afford it. i.e. if you’ve paid for all the other things like bills, savings and an emergency fund. And you may need to skip something else, like buying lunches and coffees out, or getting your nails done. You can’t have all the treats, all the time.

Cleaners, removalists, carwashes and any other service provider – I just moved house and paid a removalist to do it all for me. After years of borrowed utes, trucks and a Ukrainian guy off Airtasker whose offsider was his tiny girlfriend, this was a wonderful luxury. I had the money, so I paid for it. Didn’t lift one box – amazing!

Whether you pay for things like a cleaner is down to you. But I would argue you need to consider:

  1. Can I afford it? i.e. have I paid all my bills including my savings? Have I given up a different luxury?
  2. Does it make my life better? i.e. am I using that time I saved wisely, or defusing a relationship pain point (fighting over who cleans the bathroom).

You really need to answer both those questions before you can shell out, guilt-free.

The lazy girl’s guide to making money

One of the burdens of modern life is choice.

Choosing how to spend your time (Facebook, or read a damn book?). How to spend your working years (I’ve spoken to three friends this week about their career dilemmas). How to spend your emotional energy (obsess over 3% body fat gain, or not?).

And nowhere is this more prevalent than deciding how to spend money. So many things seem pressing or important.

We buy stuff because we are used to the instant gratification of retail therapy.

The pressure to look hot, young, thin and hair-free  sees us scooting into salons to address our perceived shortcomings.

And the social groups we move in demand a certain level of spending, on everything from dinners out to expensive hen’s days.

No judgement about any of these things. We are all at the mercy of these forces. (God knows I think far too much about botox on a bad day.)

A very tempting – and understandable – response to this is to minimise the choices we make. In other words, choosing not to choose.

This is not an ideal plan. 

You know the 80/20 rule, right? AKA The Pareto Principle. It says you get 80% of your outcomes from 20% of your efforts. (Nice easy summary of it here). Like, 20% of your wardrobe gets worn 80% of the time; 20% of the people in your company do 80% of the work. And so on.

The same applies to your money. Not in an exact ‘whack out your calculator’ way, but in a general sense of doing a few things right can have an outsize impact.

So, here I offer unto you: the lazy girl’s guide to doing the right thing with your money.

Tip 1. Start retirement saving early – The magic of compound interest means the earlier you start, the greater the gains and the less the pain. I know, super is boring and you have to pay of home loans and HECS debts and stuff.

But here are some amazing numbers. Laura is 30 years old and already has $30K in super. She’s earning $75K annually, and putting the standard 9.5% of that into her super. If she works for 30 years, she will end up putting just $213K of her own money into that nest egg.

But she will end up with over $1.1 million!

That’s because most of the money comes from compound returns – the light pink bars in the graph below. This is a simplified version of retirement saving: in reality, her salary will go up and down, and her rate of return will too. But it gives you the picture.

Now, if Laura puts in just a little extra – say 12% of her salary – she will end up with $1,321,429 – an extra $212,000! That’s a lot you can spend on a round the world retirement trip, just by putting away a couple of hundred extra every month.

MoneySmart.gov.au Compound Interest Calculator

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the downside, if Laura takes four years off work to have some kidlets, then she only has 26 years to work that magical compound interest. So, her total nest egg goes down to $791,566. Yep, instead of $1.1 million.

Again, that’s simplified, because the amount would actually depend which years were taken off, and where in the savings cycle she was up to. But it illustrates the reason there is such a huge retirement savings gap between men and women (like, close to 50% I’m sad to say).

So, the action points here:

  • Add a little extra to your super as early as possible – ask your payroll peeps about salary sacrificing.
  • If you are off work or going part-time, your spouse/partner can make contributions into your super and may get some tax benefits too. (Nice summary here)
  • Another option, if you’re on a low or part-time income, is to make an after-tax contribution of up to $1,000 to super and the government will contribute 50% to match it – up to $500. More on that here.
  • For goodness’ sake, please roll all your super into one account! Paying multiple fees and insurance policies is like standing in the shower tearing up hundred dollar bills. Most funds do it all for you these days, so pick your fave fund and get in contact. The difference at retirement could be tens of thousands of dollars!

Tip 2. Pay down debt faster – This applies to all debts, from credit cards to car loans. But I want to talk about the biggest, hairiest debt: your mortgage.

A quick play on an Extra Repayment Calculator shows that on a $400,000 home loan, paying an additional $250 per month would mean:

  • You save almost $52,000
  • You pay off the loan 5 years and 7 months earlier[i]

 

Think you can’t afford that extra money? I challenge you to find it.

  • It’s  you and your partner not buying a coffee every day (yep, for realz – $8 x 30 days = $240).
  • It’s cutting your grocery bill by shopping in bulk or somewhere like Aldi (did you read this post?).
  • It’s getting your hair done differently so you go every three months instead of every six weeks (I did this and it changed my life).
  • It’s putting on your big girl pants and not buying shit you don’t need, three times out of four (the fourth time, well, hey, we are all human).

Whether it’s a hundred bucks or a thousand, looking for ways to chuck extra money into your mortgage puts you so far ahead. You can either get out of debt faster, or leverage the equity you build up to invest in another property.

Find a better deal – On the loan mentioned above, you’d save $33,683.69 over the life of the loan, by moving from an interest rate of 4.04% p.a. to a loan at 3.63% p.a. (yes, these loans exist).

Plus, you’d be paying almost $100 less as the minimum repayment each month. That’s money you could either have in your pocket, or ideally, pay off as an additional amount.

Yes, refinancing means a lot of paperwork, but get a good broker and they do the hard work for you. Whatever you do, don’t pay the ‘lazy tax’ by staying in an expensive home loan.

Use your offset or redraw – These work in slightly differently ways but have the same effect: they reduce the amount that your interest is being calculated on.

If you think about it, 4% of $100,000 is much less than 4% of $150,000. So, you want to be paying interest on a smaller principal amount.

Redraw – this lets you access any additional funds you’ve paid above the minimum repayment. Say you’ve paid an extra $5000, you can get it out in an emergency (a real one, or ‘I need a holiday before I kill someone’).

Offset – the balance “offsets” the interest charged on your mortgage.  Say you have $10,000 in an offset and $300,000 on your loan, you only pay interest on the equivalent of $290,000.

It’s similar to the redraw but a bit more dangerous because it’s easier to access. Often a redraw takes a day to process, whereas you can have an offset mixed up with all your normal bills and banking.

Even if you don’t have a mortgage, you can apply a lot of this thinking to your saving.

For instance, look for better deals on the interest you get paid – or even look at other types of investments depending on your timeframe and goal. (Check out this post for some tips).

Track your money and expenses so you can find extra savings. And always pay yourself first. Just like you pay your mortgage repayments before everything else, your savings should go into a different account before you even see it, hold it or think about spending it. Ideally in a different bank!

Start early. Pay off debt. Sounds simple huh? It is in theory, but can be hard in execution. If you’re not convinced you can do it, maybe part of the challenge is to tweak your attitude to money.

May I recommend one or two posts I’ve prepared earlier?

Mindful spending – what it is and why it matters:

https://fiercegirlfinance.com.au/2016/08/28/mindful-spending-what-it-is-and-why-it-matters/

What’s holding you back from being Fierce:

https://fiercegirlfinance.com.au/2017/05/01/whats-holding-you-back-from-being-fierce/

That’s it. Now go forth and be fierce.

Maybe your grandma was right (about money, as well as that boy you were dating)

My late step-grandma* had a saying about choosing a partner: ‘Never stoop to pick up nothing’.

This post is not about that – I just wanted to share it because it’s great, and to prove that Grandmas know their shit.

My Grandma used to have five empty Vegemite jars, which she’d put her stray pennies into. There were different jars for different purposes.

“And if you keep doing that, soon you have a shilling, and then you have 21 shillings, which means you have a guinea to spend”.

(OK, I had to Google how  many shillings in a pound, but I did know that guineas are more exciting than a boring old pound).

This old-fashioned idea actually underpins a fancy new concept: microsaving apps like Acorns. I’m a huge fan of this app, which scrapes small amounts off your bank account – called ’round-ups’ – and invests them for you.

Say you spend $3.50 on a coffee, it garnishes the 50 cents (to round up to $4), and pops it into a portfolio of Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) – click here if you want to know more about them.

I like this because it’s painless saving. Of course I have other savings. But my Acorns is a bonus stash that I actually forget about most of the time.

Words from the wise

My friend Cara has an Irish Granny who tells her to ‘save your pennies and the pounds look after themselves’. So true! Even if we don’t actually have pennies or pounds.

On one hand, little bits of good work all add up, in those real or virtual Vegemite jars.

On the other hand, it’s all the small purchases here and there that drain your finances.

In fact, I just went through an exercise proving this. My work is about to launch a budgeting tool which links to your bank accounts and categorises all the transactions (from the last 6 months!) into ‘essentials’ and ‘discretionary’.

But it can only do about 70% of them automatically, meaning I had to go through and label a bunch of transactions myself. Soooo many transactions in the ‘Bars, Cafes and Restaurants’. Soooo many in ‘Clothes and Accessories’.

Sobering but not too surprising. After all, my mindful spending manifesto says I can spend money on going out to brunch, dinner or drinks with friends. It says very little about buying clothes though, so I am going a bit too far with that.

Even though I’m still within my ‘spend and splurge’ limit, the process showed me that I should probably shave that allocation down a little.

Considering I just bought an apartment this week, after three years of post-divorce renting, I think that’s a useful and timely lesson.

So my hot tip is this: track what you spend. Even if it’s just for a month, you’ll quickly see where your money goes, and whether it’s in line with your goals or priorities.

I like the trackmyspend app from MoneySmart, but there are others in the app store. Or go old school with a notebook.

Other great tips from my Grandma and her generation:

A stitch in time saves nine – Looking after things properly means they last much longer. I notice this the most with shoes. If you spend the time and effort wearing in a  great pair of shoes, get them resoled and reheeled before they fall apart. I have some beautiful boots cracking the ten year mark now, thanks to some love and care from Mr Minit in Martin Place.

A penny saved is a penny earned – This is really, really important. Earning money is hard and annoying most of the time.

Every time you don’t spend money on something, you can not only keep it, but put it to good use.

My Acorns account is a good demonstration this. I’ve received an 8% return on my funds in the last year.  That means every dollar I put in is now worth $1.08 – for doing nothing!

Sure, I’m not going to spend that 8 cents all at once. But when you add this up over time, it’s powerful. Over the next year, I’ll be earning 8% (or whatever it turns out to be) on $1.08 – not just the original dollar.

And this, my friends, is the magic of compound interest. 

The graph below is from the MoneySmart compound interest calculator (which I freaking love). The pink columns show what happens if I keep my $1000, continue earning 8% every year, but do nothing else for 10 years.

It’s nice. You get $1220 of free money, and come out with $2220. Good outcome, but no reason to crack out the champagne.

However, if you add just $100 a month, look what happens. That is literally the cost of buying a takeaway coffee every day. If you allocate that to an investment fund for 10 years, you could walk away with over $20,000!

Those light blue columns are the ‘free’ money – the interest earned over that time.

Source: moneysmart.gov.au

There are lots of assumptions in this example, including getting 8% returns (not guaranteed with shares). But you get the general picture.

Every dollar you don’t spend is good. Every dollar you don’t spend, and invest in something more productive, is even better. 

That ‘productive’ thing may just be paying down your mortgage. Don’t get me started on how much you can save by doing that – I have a whole post in the works about it.

But you get it, right?

And finally, here is a tip from Grandma White, which has served me well over time:

If something has green mould, cut it off and it’s fine to eat the rest. If it’s pink mould, throw it out. 

I take no responsibility for public health outcomes on that one.

*Side note about my step-grandma Gwen: in her later years she told her daughters “If I die, don’t throw out my wardrobe without getting the $17,000 out of the back.” Over the years, she’d saved whatever was left over from the housekeeping money and stashed it there. Perfect.

Assumptions in calculator:
Scenario 1: $1000 deposit,  no additional payments, 8% interest each year.

Scenario 2: $1000 deposit, $1000 monthly payment, 8% interest each year.
Past performance of an investment isn’t a reliable indicator of future performance.

photo credit: Nicholas Erwin Change via photopin (license)

How to feel wealthier, happier and more in control of money

What do you get when you cross a yoga teacher with a financial adviser?

No, that’s not the opening line to a joke.

Lea Schodel is both of those things, and as a result, is the driving force behind a more mindful approach to money. Lea and I came across each other on the interwebs and were like “Yasss, you totally get it!”… “It” being the way money and emotions and wealth and being a woman all intersect.

Lea’s approach to the topic has seen her sprout a social enterprise, The Mindful Wealth Movement, focused on helping women connect their hearts and minds with their money. And then make better decisions about it.

One of the things she provides – for free – is a 30 Day Mindful Wealth Challenge, where you receive a daily email with a little task. Some of them are very practical, like renaming a bank account to fit with a goal – “Adventure Bucket” or “Freedom Fund” for example. Others are more reflective, such as, “Make a list of all the things that wealth means to you”.

What I enjoy is that each day has an affirmation linked to the challenge, like “I am creating a wealthy life”.  It’s a simple but powerful process to reassess your relationship to money.

Lea recently wrapped up a crowdfunding campaign, raising money to provide mindful wealth and financial literacy workshops to disadvantaged women. And she still found time to share some of her thoughts with you, the Fierce Girl community, in answer to my questions. So please read on for some tips from this inspirational woman. 

What prompted you to marry mindfulness with wealth?

As a financial planner, I completely understand the need for the technical knowledge and skills (left-brain) required to manage money well. But to me, this is only half of the skillset required to have a healthy relationship with money. As a yoga teacher and wellbeing coach, I also recognise that our mindset – our thoughts and feelings (right brain) – affect our ability to manage money well.

I often say, “in order to manage money well, we need to manage ourselves well”.

Our thoughts and feelings will either support or sabotage the actions we take with our money – and often we’re not even aware of it.

A lot of what we do with our money is sub-consciously driven: done out of habit or influenced by our emotions. We all have a complex money story and a whole range of beliefs and attitudes towards money. This can either support us or limit us when it comes to earning, keeping and growing our wealth.

After studying mindfulness, I saw it as an ideal philosophy and practice to apply to not only our finances, but our lives and relationships too. Mindfulness is all about creating attention and becoming present and fully aware of our current situation.

Why did you decide to build it into a social enterprise?   

I have this motto in business: Be guided by purpose and be driven by passion. I believe you can work in a space where you generate profit but also generate impact.

Money has such an impact on all areas of our lives. Having a good relationship with money and knowing how to manage your finances is fundamental to wellbeing as well as the ability to live healthy, balanced and stress free lives.

In my experience in Financial Services over the last 16 years, I’ve come to realise that many women (and men) are missing even the most fundamental personal finance concepts and it’s not really their fault – basic financial management wasn’t taught in schools or even households for most people growing up.

I’m on a mission – to help women create a conscious and purposeful relationship with wealth, help them take control of their finances and allow them live happier, healthier and wealthier lives.

I also feel that if as a society we are more conscious and purposeful with money, then it will address social issues such as depression, suicide, homelessness, domestic violence and poverty.

It will also help close the gender pay gap and retirement shortfalls that many women face. I’d also like to see more women become conscious consumers, practice gratitude and maybe even embrace the minimalist movement.  

The final reason I created a social enterprise is because I wanted to make financial literacy and education inclusive to all women, not just those who can afford to pay for financial advice.

It doesn’t matter how much or how little money women have, we all need to know how to manage it properly if we want to use it in a way that supports our dreams, goals and wellbeing.

What stories do you see women often sabotaging their finances with?

Money is so fraught with emotion. Fear, guilt, shame or embarrassment often prevent women from seeking help or even taking the next step to gain control of their money situation.

I see a lot of women who hand over the responsibility to someone else to manage their money, and those who secretly wish and hope someone else will save them – or sweep in and fix their finances for them!

I have a lot of women tell me that they find money boring, or that they’re too creative, or just don’t care about money. It’s almost as though they feel that it’s not really a feminine thing to be money savvy or an investor.  

I see lots of women mixing up their self-worth with their net worth – thinking that they can spend their way to higher self esteem, or trying to value themselves and their success based on the clothes they wear and the things they own.

Finally, I see many women completely disconnected from their future selves, too busy living in the now to consider the impact that their money decisions today may be limiting their opportunities for tomorrow.

If you want to start practicing mindful wealth, where do you start?

Mindful wealth is all about creating connection with and bringing awareness to your wealth, accepting your current money situation and then taking intentional action to create wealth. 

The simplest way to begin is by starting to notice how money is flowing in and out of your life. Whether it is quick to earn and easy to spend, whether you are hanging onto it too tightly, whether you are oblivious to how much you earn, spend, own and owe.

From this place of awareness, you can begin to notice how your emotions and habits may be driving your relationship with money.

Any time you spend or receive money, check in to see how you are feeling, or take a moment to explore the “why” behind your actions with money.

This helps us to create more connection to our money habits (which are often driven from our sub-conscious).

There is a saying that the way to “buy happiness” is not to buy things, but to spend the money you do have, on the things that you value most in life. If you know what you truly value, then you can begin to use the money you do have to bring more of that into your life.

See if you can define what wealth means to you personally. Have a go at thinking about what is present in your life already, or that you’d like to have more of in order to feel happy and abundant.

Whilst money may certainly be one of these things, see if you can list all of the other things that you need or like to have in life and that bring you the most satisfaction and happiness.

This can be an interesting exercise, as often we have this idea that to be wealthy, we need to have lots of money. Then, in the pursuit of more money, we can sometimes lose sight of the things that make us feel truly wealthy.

What if you’re partnered, and your partner isn’t on board? How do you manage that?

I so often see “opposite” money personalities in partnerships, whether romantic or business. Given money is a leading cause of relationship breakdown and divorce, we can certainly do ourselves and our relationships a favour if we can get on the same page as our partners.

In any partnership, it’s important to recognise that we all have a unique money personality, experiences, values and habits. If we can create awareness around what these are for our partner, and they can understand what they are for us, then we can understand what drives our behaviours.

I use a great tool with my clients, which helps couples to discuss their dominant habits and attitudes with money. Then they can begin to work out a plan to support each other’s strengths and challenges when it comes to managing money.

If you’re not on the same page as your partner when it comes to your finances, the first place to start is with communication.

If you can’t communicate with each other without arguing, then it could pay to see a financial counsellor or money coach to begin the conversation in a neutral environment.  

I’m a big fan of transparency between partners, but I also insist that partners maintain some financial independence.

 Joint accounts are great to manage joint and household expenses and debt, but I think it’s also necessary to have individual accounts for personal spending money, so that each partner can spend freely on the things that they value most.

So, these are just some of Lea’s wise words. There is a lot to process there! And because I know you guys like practical tips, I have crunched it down for you into 3 Top Tips for Mindful Wealth.

 

 

photo credit: MrJamesBaker http://bestreviewsbase.com/

Investing 101 – Explained in shoes. Because, why not?

There is one important things that bad-arse, grown-up ladies do with their money.

And no, it’s not buy designer handbags.

Ok  maybe some do – but that’s not what this post is about.

No, what really grown-up ladies do is invest their money. Don’t be put off by that word ‘invest’.

You don’t need a finance degree to invest.

You can get someone to do it for you if you like.

Just like you don’t need to be a colourist to get your hair coloured, you don’t need to be a finance expert to invest.

You may want the guidance or input of a financial adviser. But you can also get a feel for it by starting small and being smart.

What sort of investments?

Well there are lots of ‘asset classes’, but the most popular ones in Australia are shares, property and cash. They all have different pros and cons, so I like to explain them like a shoe wardrobe.

Cash: your work flats – Not very exciting, and not much benefit to your outfit, but geez they are comfy and reliable. Especially if you have to hike to a meeting at the other end of town.

Similarly, putting cash in the bank has a low return, but you know you’ll get all of it back at any time.

Now, I don’t believe you should go to important meetings in flats. And so with cash, it’s fine for some purposes, but it’s not an ideal long-term play because of two reasons:

1) Opportunity cost – the longer you have it in the bank getting stuff-all interest, the more you miss out on the sweet gainz you could be getting in something like shares or property. There is also no way to reduce the tax you pay on any interest, so you pay your marginal rate (i.e the same as your income tax).

2) Inflation risk – as inflation rises, the buying power of your money decreases. If you are getting 2% in the bank, and inflation is 2.5%, then you effectively lose money, because it’s worth less than before.  (I have a whole post on this if you’re interested – here)

Now, if you’re really committed to cash because you’re risk averse or don’t quite know when you’ll want your money back, there is a subset of cash called Enhanced Cash (or similar names).

It tends to give you a couple of percentage points higher than a bank deposit, but is still pretty safe. Think of it as a strappy summer flat – a bit more pizzazz but no real risk of limping home in bare feet, with the balls of your feet burning.

One example is Smarter Money Investments, which I name here because I know the guy who runs it – he is a massive nerd and gets great returns (and for full disclosure, my employer owns some of it). There are other products out there which you could consider from a range of fund managers.

These products aren’t exactly the same as putting cash in the bank, but they are low on the risk spectrum. Make sure you read the fine print.

PropertyYour winter boots – If your boot wardrobe is anything like mine (extensive and carefully curated) then you’d know there are hits and misses. I have faves that have done the hard yards and been a damn great buy.

One of my fave buys

Then there are ones like the blue velvet over-the-knee pair. They were on sale, I had to own them, but now I can’t find anything to wear with them. In investing, this is called ‘poor asset selection’.

Buying investment property is really dependent on how well you choose. Unlike the velvet boot purchase, your property choice should be carefully researched, highly rational and based on solid data sources.

Despite what people say, not all property goes up in value, all the time. It is true that property has been the best-performing asset class in the last couple of decades, but that is an average.

Some locations or house types languish, or even go down. So while property can be a great way to build wealth, it needs more than a good knowledge of colour swatches and Ikea assembly.

The latest Russell Investments report looking at historical returns, warns that even though residential property is the best performer on average, “there was wide variation between regions, dwelling types and suburbs, with some areas declining”.

This is a risk of single-asset investing – imagine if every time you went out, all you had were those blue velvet boots!

So, just be really well-prepared if you go down this road.  And if you don’t want to go it alone, you have a couple of choices.

  1. Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) – these are a collection of properties parcelled together, and you  buy ‘units’ of them on the ASX, a bit like you buy shares. The value of the units can go up and down depending on the market (and  don’t always reflect what’s happening in the rest of the property sector. They got hammered in the GFC, for example).

    However, they give you a different flavour to traditional shares (aka equities) and the cost of entry is lower than stumping up for a house or apartment. They also give you access to more than just residential property – so you can own offices, warehouses and other commercial buildings. This provides diversification.

  2. Work with a professional property adviser – Someone like Anna Porter, who is a Fierce Girl-style powerhouse, if you ever get to see her speak. Her company does all the research and then advises on which property to buy. There are lots of similar advisers out there – but make sure they are independent and not just trying to spruik an overpriced new development.

 

Overall, Aussies love property investment and aren’t going to stop any time soon.

But I will just say this: don’t assume that just because you live in a house, you know how to invest in one.

It requires skill, knowledge and yes – luck – to get right.

Shares – your fancy, going-out-to-dinner heels. They give you great rewards (you feel so sexy) but they also have more risks – from tripping over, through to searing pain in your foot.

Shares have historically given great returns. (Nice chart on that here). But they do it with more volatility.

If you happen to put money in just before some stock market craziness, then, yeah you’ll lose some of it quicker than a Bachelor contestant loses her shit at a rose ceremony.

But, just like the resilient young ladies of The Bachelor, you’ll get back up and repair your losses over time. You need time and patience though – if you lack either of those, you could turn the ‘on paper’ loss into a real loss.

That said, there is a lot to like about shares. Not only are they strong performers in terms of returns, they are liquid (i.e. you can usually sell them way faster than a house). You can buy just a few and pay nothing more than a brokerage fee for the privilege, whereas property needs a big upfront investment and has quite a few of costs, from stamp duty through to legal fees.

I’ve written more about shares in this delightfully named piece: Buying shares is pretty much like choosing a husband.

Which investment has the best returns?

You know I’m not going to give you an easy answer.

The thing to remember with any investment is that when people (i.e. the media, finance types, blokes in pubs) talk about returns, they are often talking about that whole asset class.

The Russell Investments report shows that:

Australian shares returned 4.3%, before tax, in the ten years to Dec 2016. But that’s the market average. You may have bought some shares that went bananas and made 20%. Or you bought some that tanked and you barely broke even.

Ideally, neither of these things happened, because you had a diverse portfolio  where the winners and losers balance each other out.

You can do this by investing in managed funds, listed investment companies or exchange-traded funds. (More on that here).

Residential property returned 8.1%, before tax, in the 10 years to Dec 2016. Yeah, almost double the return of shares. But that’s a helicopter view. There are people who made way more than that because they picked a lucky location; then some people in places like Perth and Mackay who watched their properties fall 20% or more in value.

There are also more asset classes than what’s discussed here (alternatives, international shares, fixed income etc). I have just focused on the most popular.

Then there is tax. And it’s complicated.

Broadly speaking, property investing can be good for people who have a high tax bill, as they can declare a loss and claim it as a tax deduction (the oft-discussed ‘negative gearing’).

And for people who pay low or no income tax, Aussie shares can be great because of dividend imputation (aka franking credits). Now I won’t explain these, because working them out literally made me cry in my finance degree. But the outcome is, the less tax you pay, the more you get a bonus return on top. (If you’re interested, I co-wrote this article on the topic).

Of course, you should discuss these tax-type things with an accountant or financial adviser. My main point is that looking at a headline return isn’t very accurate – it depends on your costs, tax rate and timing.

You can start small

Despite all these caveats and warnings, the message I want to give you is this: investing is a key part of building wealth (remember the Four Best Friends Who Will Make You Rich?). Letting your cash sit in the bank forever or spending it whenever you get it, won’t get you closer to your ideal lifestyle.

The more you learn about it now, and the earlier you start, the more you could make over time.

Don’t be afraid to start small. I’ve been running a little portfolio on Acorns, and it’s doing well. Even popping $500 into a managed fund or listed investment company can be a good start.

That’s the key though: you need to start somewhere.

And if all this seems like a lot of information, that’s fine too. It’s totally ok to ask for help. Talk to an adviser, or a trusted friend or family member. You don’t have to be an expert to be an investor.

Photo credits:
M.P.N.texan Good Shoes via photopin (license)
https://www.flickr.com/photos/reverses/
https://www.flickr.com/photos/simpleskye/

What I’ve learnt from a year of running a finance blog

Today is the first anniversary of The Fierce Girl’s Guide to Finance. Yay! I feel happy and proud about that.

It’s been fun, hasn’t it? If you’re new to Fierce Girl, thanks for coming here. If you’e a long-time follower, thanks for being on the ride.

This whole thing was born out of lunchtime session at work called ‘Get your shit together with money’, part of the now-defunct National MoneySmart Week (long story about why it was canned). Anyway, it was a bunch of passionate advocates for financial literacy trying to put it on the national agenda. I was the PR chick, working on it pro bono.

During MoneySmart Week, I ran a session telling people to roll over their super funds and explaining the wonders of compound interest. And guess what, they got really into it! Weird, I know.

Then my friend Mindy Gold dared me to start this site. She was originally my partner in crime, but selfishly went to live overseas. (With a decent pool of savings btw, because she’s a Fierce Girl.)

The Divorce Thing

The other element of this story is that I was going through a divorce. I’m amazed by how short that phrase is when you say it.

‘I got divorced’. It’s like ‘I got my hair done’.

In reality, it was a slow, painful unwinding and rebuilding.

From the day I decided to leave, until the day the financial settlement was agreed, three years went by. And that doesn’t include the time spent watching my marriage fall apart. I’d say the last five years of my life have been spent in the strange, murky land of relationship failure.

I don’t say this to elicit sympathy, but to provide context. I’ve learnt many things from the process, some of which I’ve written about here and here. But the mistakes I made about money during my relationship, and the important role it played in allowing me to leave, have fueled my passion for this issue.

Put simply:

If you don’t control your money, you don’t control your life.

This is why it breaks my heart to see women hand over control to a partner, or to the universe. The attitude of ‘oh, I’m so bad with money but, haha, aren’t I adorably helpless‘ is still far too common.

Nobody is perfect with money. We all make bad decisions from time to time. But we need to remember who’s in the driver’s seat.

Not your credit card, not The Iconic, not the hipster-bearded bartender, and most certainly not your significant other. You, and you alone. (And maybe me, a little bit, haha).

Getting the basics right is hard – and important

When you hang out in the finance industry, you think everyone cares about whether your fund has beat the benchmark. And if you don’t know what that means, don’t worry – you’re not alone.

Finance people live in a bubble of complexity, products and jargon. Most regular people don’t care about alpha (which is how much an investment outperforms the benchmark, if you’re wondering).

They want to know how to pay off their credit card debt. Or to spend less on groceries. Or to have more money left before payday.

While I love explaining economics and investments, the readership stats for those posts are relatively low. My most-viewed post of all time is … wait for it … about bank accounts.

Turns out, how to structure your banking is far more interesting than the ingredients of Gross Domestic Product.  But the people running the banks and investment companies of the world don’t understand this. It’s taken me a year to fully appreciate it.

And that’s why so many people switch off and fall asleep when it comes to finance companies selling them stuff.

Success flows where attention goes

That sounds a little Tony Robbins, I know. But what I mean is that, since I’ve been thinking about money and finances and budgets A LOT in the last year, I’ve become way better at all those things. When you focus on something, you get better at it. Who knew!

My budgets are less liable to blow-outs, I feel confident about meeting my financial goals, and I feel comfortable about spending money on something if I’ve mindfully allocated funds to it.

I feel more in control, more confident and more optimistic. And that’s the goal, right?

Plus, I guess I have to really practice what I preach. Don’t want the paparazzi snapping me in the Jimmy Choo store.

At some point, you just have to back yourself

For someone in PR, I have a weird aversion to promoting myself.

But I have to remember I’m on a mission: to help you all take control of your money, give yourself choices and live your best lives. And a mission needs an appropriate level of bad-arse bravery and hustle.

So , as I enter Year Two of the blog, I’m getting serious. Site redesign, e-book launch, PR blitz – the lot!

If you love what I do, please be an advocate. Share things you find useful. Send me your feedback. Sign up for emails. And tell me when you’ve had Fierce Girl wins!

We are all in this together, fighting, dollar by dollar, to own the world and everything it has to offer.

So, go forth and be Fierce! And remember…

4 tips to help avoid a spending blow-out

Do you ever feel like there’s an devil on your shoulder convincing you to spend money?

I’m not sure if it’s the same devil who says ‘yes, you need another shot at 1am’, or just a close relative of hers.

Either way, these evil little goblins like to ruin your bank account or your Sunday morning. But we don’t have to give in to them every time.

There are ways to tame the devil on your shoulder when it comes to spending.

1 – Remove temptation – There’s a difference between allocating extra funds to your mindful spending, and simply giving in to bad habits. (If you haven’t read this post, I recommend it).

Mindful spending is where you think about what’s important to you or brings you the greatest pleasure. For example, I spend an outsize amount on fitness because it makes me happy and is good for me. But I don’t buy designer clothes or eat at expensive restaurants. I give myself permission to spend on the priority.

This is not the same as the ‘treat yo’self’ mentality. Buying an expensive pair of shoes is only mindful if you’ve previously decided that it’s part of your Mindful Spending Manifesto. You’ve accepted that expensive shoes make a positive difference to your life, and you’ve cut back on something else to allow for it.

Something that seems to permeate our culture is a sense of helplessness in the face of spending. Yes, shops are good at marketing. Yes, we all have moments of weakness. But unless you have a legit mental addiction (in which case, you should be in treatment),  managing our spending should be something we work on with the same fervour as we work on our diets.

So, if you love expensive shoes, don’t go into that shop. If you overspend on boozy nights out, don’t take your card with you – make a cash budget and stick to it. If you can’t be trusted on the ASOS website, don’t click into their newsletter – which brings me to the next point…

2 – Reject reminders – I’ve heard two different people say recently that their worst habit is getting a newsletter from their favourite store, then splurging as a result. “It’s my weakness”.

Well this might sound obvious, but how about you unsubscribe? I’ll admit, these stores are clever. You can’t go to any e-commerce site these days without being offered ‘15% off for subscribing to our newsletter‘. What a bargain you say!

Sure, give them your email and get the coupon. But that’s it! No more. As soon as their welcome email hits your inbox, hit that ‘unsubscribe’ button faster than a Kylie Jenner lipstick sells out.

And if you’ve already got a bunch of these emails hitting you up, then spend 10 minutes – right now – getting them out of your life.

While you’re at it, you probably need to unfollow them on Instagram too. I know, I’m mean. But will your life really be worse because you haven’t been invited to ‘shop the new season look‘?

3 – Get off the spending merry-go-round – AKA: avoid recurring costs.

I love a Shellac manicure with all my heart. Those colours! That staying power! But I have no Shellac in my life anymore, because that shit is a revolving door of gel polish, UV light and acetone baths.

Even if you just want it for an event, you have to go back a few weeks later to get it taken off. And then while you’re there, you may as well get a new colour … and then boom! You’re back on the spending cycle. (And the impact of acetone baths on one’s health is also kinda questionable).

The same can be said for a lot of hair and beauty treatments, but also things like those ridiculous subscription boxes. Like, you really need a box of random beauty products every month? Puhlease. Tell those charlatans who’s in charge of your spending, thank you very much. (Hint: it’s you)

4 – Get smarter than the finance companies – One of the wonders of modern life is how it thinks up new ways to make you buy shit you don’t need. We’ve moved on from the old-skool credit card.

Now, we have Afterpay and zipMoney. Sure you don’t pay interest (although there can be late fees). But it takes a purchase that’s otherwise unaffordable or ill-advised, and puts it within your reach.

It breaks down the mental barrier of ‘my cashflow can’t deal with this‘.

So my advice here is simple: don’t use them. Don’t sign up to them. Don’t create an account (or cancel the one you have).

At the very least, give yourself 24 hours to consider a purchase using it. You’ll be surprised how often you change your mind.

Another trap is the credit card balance transfer. ‘Move your debt to us‘, the banks say. ‘Pay no interest!‘, they say. And you think ‘right, this is the time when I stop adding to the balance and pay off all my debts’. 

If that actually happened, these things wouldn’t exist. It’s a trick. You sign up and spend more.

If you really are paying a lot of credit card debt off, and being slugged with interest, you get ONE GO of moving to a no-interest card. Then you ditch it. Freeze it, stash it with your parents, hide it somewhere. Whatever you do, don’t give yourself room to add to that card – all you’re allowed to do is pay it off.

And that, my friend, is how to slay the devil on your shoulder.

Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/devignelements/

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