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The Fierce Girl's Guide to Finance

Get your shit together with money

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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/

You have 300 paydays left. Seriously. So, what’s your plan?

Last week, I ruined everyone’s Friday by dropping this truthbomb.

Seriously, if you’re in your 30s and plan to retire in your 60s, you don’t actually have many paydays left.

It’s easy to work out (if you get paid monthly). Pick your imagined retirement age, minus your age now, and multiply by 12. Because I have aggressive early retirement plans (and am kinda old), it’s an even lower number.

Yep, just over 200 times to wake up and feel rich for three days. 200 times to scour my payslip working out how much leave I have accrued. 200 times to go down Pitt St Mall feeling like a baller.

That’s not really many times at all, in the scheme of things.

And if you’re planning to take time off to raise kids, then you can minus out at least 6 of those paydays,  and maybe a lot more.

So, now that we have all had a moment to face reality, let’s talk about what we do with this information.

Running the numbers

Our time in paid employment is a gift. Not just to our smashed-avocado-loving selves of today, but also to our future, chilled-AF party selves. We are all Baddie Winkle, somewhere in the future, drinking with Miley Cyrus.

Instafamous nanna, Baddie Winkle

How do we do we achieve this? We take charge, that’s how. We do a mutha-effing BUDGET! Woot!

Ok I said that in an excited way because I know you’re about to hit snooze. But go with me here.

How to do a Budget that doesn’t hurt your head or induce anxiety

A budget is all about giving you data that makes you better at decision-making. And information is power! So, I recommend a combination of:

  1. MoneySmart’s great online budget planner (click here), which sets out all the costs you have right now. You can choose weekly, monthly or annual for each item, and it averages it all out for you.Then you can run it as a monthly, quarterly or annual budget. It even gives you a pie graph – awesome!
  2. MoneySmart’s TrackMySpend app (in the App store or Google Play) – record everything you spend, and I promise you shit gets real very quickly. You can just do it for a month if you like – but it gives you powerful data.

Once you have this data – a combination of ‘forecast’ and ‘actual’ numbers – you can make informed decisions. In particular:

  • What does it cost to be me?
    These are your fixed costs. A useful way to think about this is to have different versions – the ideal you, the average you and the bad you. Kinda like Kylie Minogue in the awesome video for Did it Again.

    My ideal budget is when I don’t buy three pairs of boots at the Wittner sale (they were super cheap) and don’t have Priceline accidents (when you go in for Panadol and come out with three new lipsticks). My average budget is when I actually do those things.

    And my bad budget is when I buy stuff I don’t need due to premenstrual angst or emotional turmoil. To be honest that version of me has been tamed  these days, so I usually fall into the first two. And my latest budget has Priceline accidents built into it.

  • What’s a reasonable savings goal? 
    There is no magic number for this. At least 10% is good, but if you have done your real budget (the average you) and there’s genuinely not enough left over, then do 5% or whatever. If you can do more, then happy days! The key is to do something.
    Also, it may not even be real savings at this point – it could be paying down bad debt like a credit card. Or, at the other end of the scale, it may be going straight into an investment like a managed fund or ETF (more on that here). In any case, it’s the money you allocate to being a responsible adult who does sensible things with your future self in mind.

And once you’ve answered these questions, you can feel more in control and less like ‘it’s all too hard’. Simples!

The secret to guilt-free spending

Sounds too good to be true huh? Like the promise of diet cheesecake or hangover-free wine.

But I spent a whole day with a guy last week, who I can only call the Money Whisperer, and he explained how it was possible. Plus, he was so full of good sense that I had to share some highlights with you.

Steve Crawford, from Experience Wealth, has built a whole business wrangling the errant wallets of ladies like us (or me, at least). Gen X and Y, mainly professionals, often in media and finance. We all earn good money but somehow it slips through our fingers faster than we’d like.

So, he is a Money Coach. That’s actually a thing (that people pay for, not just me scolding you for free). I’ve told him he has to do an interview at some point, but in the meantime, let me paraphrase one of his concepts.

Banking – sooo boring. Or is it? 

I know, setting up bank accounts sounds so dull. But it’s all about earmarking money in a way that makes things more organised, and less tempting.

This is essentially how I do my banking, and while I am not perfect, it certainly keeps me in line. Steve has helpfully refined it and given it better names. I, however, made that fancy little graphic.

The Banking Buckets

These are the key elements:

Main account – your pay goes in here and pays all those annoying fixed costs, like rent and bills. You pay the Boring Bills straight out of here, with direct debits.

Storage – this is money you know you’ll need later, but not right now – in other words, short-term savings. This is the most ‘sensible’ account – the one that grown-ups have because they know car rego is due in January and they don’t want to put in on a credit card. I’d also argue this is the hardest one to nail – but still, we have to try!

Hot tip – have this one with a different bank, so you don’t see it and remember it every time you log on to internet banking.

Savings – This is the long-term stuff – the home deposit, the potential share portfolio, or the emergency fund (real emergencies like your car breaking down, not needing to buy new moisturiser so you can get the Clinique gift-with-purchase). This should be in a high-interest account with no card access – meaning you can’t get drunk and dip into it at 3am in the casino.

Spending – This is the guilt-free account. Sadly, you can only put money in there after filling up the other three. Sucks, I know. BUT – whatever is in there is totally guilt-free. Spend it on hookers and coke, if you feel so inclined. Jokes! We don’t need to pay for sex. Or coke, for that matter.

This account is like when your mum let you have ice-cream for dessert, but only after eating all your vegetables at dinner.

Once you’ve done the sensible things, then you do the fun things.

How much goes in each account?

That’s quite a detailed discussion for another time. But briefly:

  • make sure you work out the Boring Bills stuff properly – and don’t forget to shop around if they seem unpleasantly high
  • give yourself a decent Storage buffer, as that’s where the big costs often come from
  • be realistic with Savings – even just a little bit is far better than nothing at all
  • make Spending somewhere between what you’d really like to play with. and what you realistically can afford.

And if this all sounds like a great idea but you don’t where to start, you should give Steve a call. He will make rude jokes about Sydney people (he has a habit of saying #sosydney in conversation), but other than that, he’s the real deal.

photo credit: suzyhazelwood DSC01149-02 via photopin (license)

Don’t panic! Well, actually, panic a little.

I’ve been at the coalface recently.

Not literally digging up coal and stuff, but hearing the stories of everyday Australians and their money challenges. I now work for a large financial planning and mortgage business, so I see lots of different ways people are winning or losing the big Monopoly game of life.

So here are some things I really want to tell you.

We are entering uncharted territory, in terms of our economy and society.

We are going to have far more people, living far longer, with unprecedented levels of debt.

This sounds like a big, impersonal statement, but has a lot of implications for each of us as individuals.

For example, if you’re Gen Y or X, like me, your parents could well be retired for 30-40 years. They will likely spend their retirement savings on their holidays at first, then their general living expenses and then aged care (which is bloody expensive). We, their kids, will be lucky to get much of an inheritance.

Key takeout: We will have to look after ourselves one day.

We are buying homes later and paying more for them.

Australians are going to have mortgages for a long time, and many people will limp into retirement (or some form of it) with a debt.

This hit home to me when I was talking to the head of our financial planning business.

I’m trying to work out whether I buy a place to live in, and he’s asking me all these hard questions like ‘what do you want to do in 10 years’ (I don’t know, other than it probably involves Botox).

And then he said, well, what if you retire in your 50s? (Unlikely, I’ll concede, but my dad managed it at 53). Will you want to still have a mortgage? And then it dawned on me that if I get a 25-year mortgage I’ll have it in my 60s!  What the actual fuck.

Now of course I can get a small mortgage and pay it off sooner. But if I do the minimum, that means I’ll literally be in debt for decades.

The age people my age can access super is 67 (aka ‘preservation age’), so I couldn’t even tap into my super to pay off that debt until then. (Which is what people are doing more and more, then having not much super left to live on).

Key takeout: We should probably rethink our retirement age and smash our mortgages as fast as possible.

Maybe you can’t afford the home you want, right now. But you can probably afford a home you don’t like, in a few years.

I know, that’s confusing. Why would you buy a house you don’t like?

I have said before on this blog that buying property isn’t the ultimate be-all and end-all to life. Certainly that’s the case when we’re younger. But nobody really wants to be old and homeless.

There’s a growing group of under-40s who despair of ever getting into the market. But that’s because lots of us want to live in expensive places like Sydney.

One option is to buy an investment in a more affordable place – often regional cities – and sit on it for a long time. Most people who have ‘dream homes’ didn’t start with them. They upgrade over time.

The key is to do something, as soon as possible. What scares the hell out of me is the idea of not owning anything in old age.

I heard a customer story the other day about a couple, in their 60s, owing hundreds of thousands on a home loan. Their combined income was less than $75K per annum, both casual. They may never pay off their property. Or the husband might die and leave his wife on her own earning $19K a year. Yep, these are real people and I have no idea of their backstory. But I really don’t want any of my Fierce Girls to be in this position one day.

Which brings me to my final key takeout: Please start soon. Actually, start now.

Start what? Saving, being serious, investing, adulting, not wasting money on crap. The sooner you build a foundation of wealth, whether it’s a little share portfolio or a savings account or a cheap investment property, the sooner you are giving yourself a bedrock for the future.

And the power of compound interest means the sooner you start, the less painful it will be. Don’t put off the idea of wealth building, even if it  means starting small.

And if you’re not sure where to start, then have a look through the extensive Fierce Girl archives. Because the blog is about to celebrate its first birthday! Yay! So you have a year’s worth of fierce tips to work with. Enjoy! (Now that I’ve scared the shit out of you haha).

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

I know you’re bored AF of the Budget, but just read this one thing

Because I am going to give you a useful view on it, probably with some swearing, and then you can go back to drinking that glass of sav blanc.

First question: Is the Super Saver Scheme the BEST THING EVER for first home buyers? 

No, not really. But it’s not bad either.

The best thing that could happen for the poor young first home buyer is that we stop immigration, use more contraception and go back to living with three generations in one house. None of which I am actually advocating – but the point is, supply is the biggest issue.

I listened to a story on ABC Radio National this week, about the economics of population growth (that’s the kind of party girl I am). Our population is growing faster than ever, and we have to house everyone. At the same time, the number of people who live in each dwelling has gone down a lot since the 1960s. I found this graph in a delightful RBA research paper on house prices (which I read so you don’t have to).

I live by myself, so I am guilty of driving this trend. But the ethics of resource consumption aside, it’s clear that we have too many people and not enough housing, and this will keep prices high for the foreseeable future.

However, that’s OVERALL. House prices rise and fall in line with the fate of the particular cities and towns they’re in. Townsville, Mackay and Perth are just some of the places that have faced steep falls in prices, as the mining industries propping them up have faltered. Hence why the old property investment game is a bit tricky.

“But what does this all mean for me?”

This is a bit of a diversion to say a couple of things: 1. The government isn’t going to solve house prices for you and 2. if you want to buy a property in Sydney or Melbourne you’re kinda screwed.

Well, not completely. There are other ways to get into the market – they just take longer. For example, the ‘rentvesting’ idea: rent where you like living, buy where you can afford to. My new boss, who is a famous finance guru (cos who else would I do PR for?) reckons you should buy not just one, but two or three properties this way.

The key is, they are in areas where the price is more manageable. Regional towns or smaller capital cities (although probably stay out of Brisbane high-rise apartments for the moment – they went a bit nuts building them and have too many now).

You buy these places, build up the equity in them, and then eventually sell them to buy your dream home. That’s the theory anyway – the execution needs to be pretty spot on, so you don’t end up with some shitty properties languishing for years.

Obviously this is a long-term play – five or ten years even. But you won’t die just because you aren’t living in a house you own. The key is that you’re doing something.

The worst fucking option is renting, moaning and spending your money on shit you don’t need ‘because I can’t afford a property anyway’.

But even doing this requires a deposit. Which brings me back to the initial question: how good is the Super Saver Scheme (SSS)? 

Look, it’s better than a slap in the face with a wet fish. Jessica Irvine, whom I love, has a done a great job of breaking down the detail for you here. But I’ll give you the highlights:

  • It’s a good discipline – once you put that money in there, there’s no pulling it back out for a splurge on a new dress or a fancy holiday you just had to have. It’s either ‘spend it on a property’ or ‘get it when you’re 67’ (see ya bye, money!).
  • It’ll mean you pay less tax going in – the cash that goes in gets taxed at the super rate of 15% instead of your personal rate of up to 47% (depending on how much you earn). Think about it like this: for every $100 of your pre-tax pay, you get to keep $85 if it goes into the SSS. If you just took it in your take-home pay, you’d keep as little $53 (in theory – progressive tax means it would be a a bit more than that).
  • …And going out. Anything you earn on the money you save will be taxed at your marginal rate, less 30% when you take it out. If you’re on the 37% rate, you pay just 7 cents. But that’s not bad – if it was bank interest you could pay your personal tax rate – which, as mentioned above, is likely higher.

Of course there are tons more annoying details but if you want a disciplined way to save, and you think you’re getting slugged on your income tax (don’t we all?), it could be a go-er.

“Hey, what about the bank tax? Should I care about it?”

I hear you asking and my answer is, only a little bit. Those banks are not just gonna take the hit to their bottom line, so they will pass it on to either staff, shareholders or customers.

I suspect a bit of each. Interest rates on mortgages and credit cards could rise – if they do, shop around to one of the banks who isn’t paying that tax (remember, it’s only the Big 4 plus Macquarie bank, and odds are you don’t have private banking with the latter).

And although bank-bashing is a national sport, let me just remind you that anyone with superannuation probably is a shareholder in them. The Big Four are called that for a reason – they are the four biggest companies on the ASX. And if your super account is made up of about 40% Aussie shares (most default funds sit somewhere around that level), then you, my friend, own a shitload of bank shares.

So before you gleefully stick the boot into the big greedy banks, remember they are funding your retirement. (Well, not mine – I’m in Australian Ethical and they only invest in Westpac).

So, of course other stuff happened in the Budget, but everyone else has covered that. For a Fierce Girl about town, these are some of the more relevant ones. And now, we may never speak of this again.

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Don’t panic and start early: wise words from rich people

One perk of my job is that I get to hang out with some pretty rich people.

Ok, when I say ‘hang out’, I don’t mean we are drinking champagne on their yachts. More like, we are in meeting rooms and they are telling me the finer details of their investment strategy, so I can PR the shit out of it.

How rich? Well some are just really well-paid, others have a few million sunk in their fund management companies, and a handful are serious, yacht-owning, penthouse-buying ballers.

(On a side note, they are generally totally low-key about their wealth – you have to notice their watches, or do the sums on their ‘funds under management’ to get the idea).

Anyway, because I love you Fierce Girls, and am always thinking about ways to help you own it, I have been asking these people what advice they have for the mere mortals among us. Here are some of the wise words I’ve heard.

Don’t Panic. This is from a lovely fund manager who grew up on a pineapple farm and has just launched one of the biggest listed investment companies on the ASX.  Oh, and he was a professor of finance at one stage (WTF).

His message was that in the current housing market, it can feel like you have to do something fast or you’ll miss out forever.  That’s a natural reaction when prices go up as fast as they have been. And it doesn’t help your FOMO levels when you read about 30 year old property barons. (By the way, Buzzfeed has a very interesting take-down of these stories – recommended read).

Yes house prices are crazy, especially in Sydney and Melbourne. But every generation has its challenges in getting onto the property ladder.

My Gran and Poppa lived in a car container for the first year of their marriage. Gran said she felt pretty lucky, because all some people had was a tent! That was actually a thing in post-war Australia – building materials were rationed, hence all those pokey little fibro cottages. Buying land was kinda easy, but building a house on it? Not so much.

And then our parents’ generation struggled with 18% interest rates and a major recession. Yes, they were still spending less in comparison to wages (as I explain here), but I’m sure we can all agree it felt pretty fucking stressful at the time. And unemployment was high AF, so there was also the chance you could lose your job.

Yes, it’s hard and scary to buy property now, but it always has been. You have to accept that and find a way around it. Maybe you can’t buy in Sydney, for example, but can you buy somewhere else for under $500K and rent it out? Probably.

You still need to do boring things like cut back your spending and save like a tight-arse – but I can tell you right now my Gran was not getting her nails done when she was living in a one-room shed with a husband and a baby.

And if you play the long game, knuckle down, and get serious about saving, you will get there eventually.

Start investing early and take on more risk when you’re young – This solid piece of advice comes from one of my favourite low-key rich people. He manages ridiculous amounts of money for ridiculously rich people, but still gets excited about getting a great deal at the Anytime Fitness near his apartment building. And when I say his building, this guy’s company literally built and sold the whole thing.

Anyway, the point here is two-fold. Firstly, the earlier you start, the easier it is to make gains – this is the magic of compound returns. Please go play with this calculator to see what I mean.

The second point is that you can tolerate more risk when you’re young, because you have a longer investment horizon. If you lose a little bit one year, you have more years to make it back.

Markets are volatile, so you have to build in the likelihood of loss every now and then. In fact, most super funds work out their investment risk based on how often they can lose money. A medium-risk option might tolerate 2-3 years of negative returns over 20 years, while a higher risk option would make a loss in 4-6 years – although aiming for higher returns too. (There’s a good explanation of this concept here).

The upshot is, you can’t make all the money, all the time – but if you have time on your side, you can upsize your risk profile, as well as capture the magic of compound returns.

As you get closer to retirement, and have less time to make up for losses, you should dial down your risk profile accordingly. Some super funds now just do it for you – it’s called a ‘lifecycle’ strategy.

(If you want to read about risk and the different ways it applies to your money, check out my earlier post.)

The key here is that  you don’t have to drop a million bucks on a property to make this advice work. You could sign up to the Acorns app, for example, and start socking away loose change into an ETF. (Of course, do your own research on it).

But remember, you can start small, just as much as you can start early.

So that’s it for now. I have a few more nuggets of advice up my sleeve, which I’ll share in future. In the meantime, ladies, stay Fierce.

What’s holding you back from being Fierce?

It was always going to be tight. I found it hard to negotiate the notice period at my old job and the start date of my new job. Well, when I say ‘negotiate’, I mean I didn’t do that at all; I just did what everyone asked me to.

And so it was that I found myself at Queenstown airport yesterday, with heart racing and palms sweating. With all the demands from employers old and new, I ended up flying to a wedding in Queenstown for about 72 hours. What I didn’t know is that Queenstown is in the Top 10 most difficult-to-land-in airports in the world, with the runway flanked by mountains and choppy winds. The pilots tried to land twice, failed, then flew on to Christchurch to refuel and consider their options.

All this was revealed after we’d cleared customs and reached the gate, and so began a three-hour wait to see if the plane would come back to Queenstown, if it could land, and whether I could start my new job today.

I was pretty zen at first, but as the time dragged on, I cursed my decision to cut it so fine, and my failure – two year earlier – to negotiate down the excessive notice period in my contract.

Thank goodness for those lovely pilots at Jetstar (you didn’t think I’d be on a full-price airline did you?). They finally landed on the tarmac and hauled us back to Sydney.

Knowing your value

It’s a strange thing. If you ask me whether I’m good at my job, I’d say yes. My skills are in demand, I’m a specialist in my field, I bring a wide range of experience. And yet, I have never asked for a payrise. (Click here if you want some tips on that).

In fact, I forgot to ask about salary in my last performance review. I’ve never negotiated a starting salary, always taken what they offered.

This is nothing less than a failure on my part. Because most pay increases are incremental, the earlier you fatten your pay packet, the greater the increase next time. If I hadn’t been so damn nice, there’s a good chance I would make more money now.

This was brought into stark relief for me in the last few months. I was headhunted by a recruiter who was puzzled by the mismatch between my level of pay and years of experience.  I stumbled and mumbled when he he asked what salary I was looking for next.

Then when my employer replaced me, they hired someone with less talent and paid him more. It makes me angry, but at myself more than anyone.

Here I am, cheerleading for the girl squad and telling them to take life and money and career by the balls, but I’m not the best example.

However, I’m trying. I had an ex-investment banker give me a stern talking-to at the wedding. I had an old client make me promise I wouldn’t resign again without him coaching me. I had a colleague promise her I’d never again say in an interview “I’m not that focused on money”. Yeah, that was an actual thing I said. WTF.

The cost of pleasing others

I’ve been trying to unpick the puzzle about why I’m my own worst enemy in this sense. Why do I dislike asking for money? Why do I feel uncomfortable putting a dollar value on myself?

One factor was a fear of the price I’d pay. I believed that if a company paid you more, they expected a pound of flesh for it. That every pay rise would come with a concomitant increase in work. That’s not the case, in reality. You learn to work smarter, you find balance by being good at what you do and you learn to create boundaries.

Another issue is impostor syndrome. I question, in my heart, whether I deserve more money. Whether I’m that good or useful or worthwhile. Usually I can tell that bitch inside my head to shut the hell up, but not all the time. Sometimes she stands at the edge of my thoughts and whispers such taunts to me.

But I think the biggest issue is my tendency to be a people-pleaser. I don’t want to rock the boat by being troublesome. I don’t want to be the difficult one who makes a fuss. I feel uncomfortable making others uncomfortable. And so I leave difficult conversations about money well alone.

So now that I have identified these issues I can work on them. I can be alert to my own pitfalls.

When I was in that airport, waiting for the plane to break through the clouds, I decided that I had hit rock bottom on people pleasing. Today is the day where I start saying no more often. Where I value myself and my skills and my time more dearly. Where I start learning how to put aside the discomfort of negotiation, and do it anyway. I can do hard things in other areas of my life, so surely I can do it here.

I tell you all this not just because I am a massive over-sharer (although I am), but as a cautionary tale. I see a lot of women consistently undervalue themselves or question their worth in dollar terms. Granted, I’ve also seen women go hard in negotiations, (sometimes against me, their boss!) and succeed in getting more than they had been offered.

The tendency not to make demands seems to sit somewhere alongside the female tendency want to be smaller, less troublesome, less Fierce.

The world pushes us to take up less space all the time: to diet away our body fat, not to get ‘too big’ (as a weightlifter, I’m sometimes warned against this fate). We are told to quieten our voices lest we be called ‘shrill’ (god knows I have been).

All of these are simply attempts to stop us owning our power, and I admit, I fall for it sometimes. I doubt myself, I question my talent, I wish to be leaner. And so do many, many women I know and love.

So I encourage you to question which behaviours are holding you back from being truly Fierce.

What is stopping you from owning your power? Because whether or not we acknowledge it, our wealth is tied up deeply with our power. Our power to demand something from the world. Our power to say, “I am here, working and caring and sweating and delivering, and I ask you to remunerate me accordingly”.

Nobody will give us anything more than we ask, so we must to learn to ask.

And I am learning to ask.

Photo credit: Queenstown Airport by Curtis Simmons

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