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The Fierce Girl's Guide to Finance

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

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

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

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

  1. Don’t ask, don’t get

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Choose a leader, not a job

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

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

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

  1. Be your own cheerleader

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to hack your goals and nail everything in 2019

In 2018, I leaned out and toned up, losing about 5kg ahead of my 40th birthday.

People asked me how I did it, and I’d detect a hopeful tone. What wonderful secret had I found?

Sadly, there are none. I tracked and weighed all my food, stopped boozing and trained for fat loss (i.e. so many reps).

Probably the biggest thing was setting a goal. I’d been powerlifting for a few years, and building strength was always the main game – my goals were more like ‘squat 100kg’.

I was more focused on what my body could do, rather than what it looked like. This year, I switched to an aesthetic goal.

Neither of these goals are good or bad, in my opinion. There is something empowering about reaching a lifting goal, but also in feeling lean, fit and attractive.

The key point is, they provide something to work towards. They were specific, measurable and kept me focused. They kept me home on a Friday night, so my coach wouldn’t kill me on a Saturday morning. They encouraged me to spend time on a Sunday night preparing food for the week. They gave me a reason to say no to high-calorie foods.

New year, new you?

I’m telling you this because it’s a new year, and we all have good intentions. Often it’s about weight loss, but it’s a good time to take stock of finances too.

If I’m honest, my 2018 wasn’t great financially speaking. I was trying to get in the groove of being a homeowner, and quarterly strata fees, coupled with a kitchen renovation, really challenged me.

I had all the basics covered and I saved money, but I could have done a lot better, especially if I’m meant to be a good Fierce Girl example.

Know your weakness, then kick its butt

My biggest weakness isn’t a lack of knowledge or a tendency to spend money on stuff. It’s my lack of organisation. I try, I really do, but it’s a constant struggle against my nature.

You know those people who hate mornings, and you try to make them get up early? They’ll do it, but it takes fives snoozes and the threat of unemployment. And when they do wake, they are cranky arseholes.

That’s how I am with any type of life admin. And it’s why I have a shameful stack of papers in my cupboard, full of tasks that I need to file or action. I just add one more thing and shut the door again.

I know that I’m shit at this, and that I need a way to hack my bad habits. So I’m taking my approach to training and diet – which I’m good at – and applying it to money.

Boiled down, my weight loss success was based on:

  1. Set a goal – fit into the very skimpy outfit I purchased for my party
  2. Track everything – all food, every workout
  3. Rely on habit – regular food prep becomes a non-negotiable activity

Applying this to money, I’ve realised I need to:

  1. Set a goal – I’m going to pay an extra $20,000 off my mortgage in 2019
  2. Track everything – yep, I have to manually enter it into the TrackMySpend app
  3. Rely on habit – once a week I have to sort that pile of admin out and do at least one task

That third one really gives me anxiety, because I know I will struggle with it. But I need to start somewhere if I am going be a fully functioning adult.

The missing piece here is reward. At the gym, I get rewarded with endorphins, and I get validation when people compliment me. So it helps me to stick with it.

But this plan is boring and low on quick wins. So I’m adding in a bonus that if I stay on track with saving, I get to have a trip overseas. And if I do my weekly chore torture, I’m allowed to give myself a monthly treat, up to the value of $50.

There will be other behavioural modifications I need to achieve these goals – for example, the point of tracking is to ensure I spend less on crap (I’m looking at you Priceline and Sephora).

But I feel more prepared and confident knowing I have a plan and a framework.

Setting Goals

If you’re keen to nail your finances in 2019, have a think about what you want to achieve. I have a post about goal setting here, and it includes a simple worksheet you can download.

The goals don’t have to be big and hard. They could be as simple as ‘save $200 a month’. Or they can be specific – ‘Pay for my end of year holiday without a credit card’.

The point is to have them. Without something to work towards, we humans tend to drift into whatever’s easy and in front of us.

But with a goal, you can have a plan. And with a plan, you can have global domination (eventually).

So, here’s to an amazing 2019, and I hope you get all the good stuff you deserve!

I turned 40 and here’s what I’ve learnt about money

To be honest, I was freaking out about turning 40 at first. Thought I’d run away for my birthday and hide in shame.

Then I remembered who I am. Bad-arse bitch who loves attention! I have a great job, my own, sweet bachelorette pad, cash in the bank and a zippy 2005 Mazda in the garage (lol, it doesn’t even have power windows).

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I kept the celebrations totally low-key and subtle, of course

So now that the Festival of Belinda has successfully been celebrated, I give to you four gifts of wisdom – one for each decade.

Money isn’t about stuff, it’s about choices.

I know, I say this a lot. But the longer I live, the more I see it play out. I have watched friends stuck in marriages they can’t afford to leave, or stuck in jobs they hatett. When I left my marriage, the quality of life I had afterwards was a direct outcome of the money I could save and earn.

So, the more you spend on clothes, jewelry, homewares, cars and other ‘stuff’, the lower your buffer when you want to make a change. I controversially believe in having a ‘FU Fund‘, even if you’re married, because you honestly just never fucking know when you need to leave something or someone.

Money’s always hard, because temptation’s always there.

I’d like to think I have my shit together financially. But I still struggle.

Whether it’s the small temptations (I swear this is my last Shellac for a long time), or the big decisions (do I renovate the bathroom or sit on the cash?), it’s hard.

We are wired to like shiny new things and fun experiences. And they get advertised to us everywhere! The gym, the toilet, the elevator – nowhere is safe.

Plus modern life is complicated and relentless. I got a credit card for work and forgot to pay it off the second bloody month I owned it. (I’m smart but so, so vague).

So we need to create frameworks for ourselves. I diarised my credit card due date, for example.

We need to pay attention to what matters, by creating a mindful spending manifesto.

We need to practise saying no to things if they don’t align with our goals.

And we need to check in with our bank statements reguarly, not wish them into another dimension.

It’s a grind, but we just need to suck it up, buttercup. The alternative is to be broke AF and/or not meet our life goals. And who wants that?

Nobody cares about your money as much as you do.

Remember the post a while back where I got my friends a $6k refund from their bank? The short version is they were on the wrong interest rate, and nobody – neither their mortgage broker, financial adviser nor the bank – gave a shit.

It was only when they picked up The Barefoot Investor and started asking me stuff, that we realised they were getting screwed over.

I’m not against using advisers or brokers or accountants. But you still have a responsibility to keep an eye on things and to educate yourself. The more you know, the likelier you are to ask tough questions or spot bullshit.

Similarly, no energy company, telco or insurer is going to offer you a better deal for the hell of it. Do your research, call them up,  give them a hard time, or simply switch. It’s your money, so be a tight-arse with it.

Only you can decide what’s important to you.

Remember my friend Jen who loves designer bags and shoes? Girlfriend got two pairs of Valentino heels delivered to the office just a couple of weeks ago. About $1500 all up and that was ON SALE.

And yet she can’t fathom how I’d spend over a hundred bucks on LuluLemon leggings, when I could get them for $30 at Cotton On. I could give you chapter and verse about the superiority of the Align leggings, and how I train every day etc.

But at the end of the day, I care a lot about exercise and all the stuff that goes with it. Including sneakers that are technically just for walking around. (Hey, walking is exercise ok). So I spend money on it.

And I spend less on other stuff. I don’t spend much in bars; I buy cheap wine whenever I need it; and that aforementioned Mazda is worth so little I don’t even pay for comprehensive insurance for it.

It’s ok to have things you splurge on. The trouble comes when you splurge on everything. When you feel out of control so you end up saying ‘YOLO’ and whacking it on the credit card.

You can always stop and reset (read this post). You can always do better. And you can pick one or two things to treat yourself, while still achieving your goals.

If I had to sum up my financial life, from my first job at 13 until now, I’d say it was a work in progress.  I’ve been broke, learnt the hard way, had some good luck, made a shitload of mistakes, had some great help and advice, and muddled my way through. The best thing I’ve done is stay interested and curious.

After all, if you keep learning, you keep improving. Which is pretty great life advice right there. You’re welcome.

photo credit: donbuciak Another Hot Year via photopin (license)

Three truths about money to make you feel better

We could always be doing better than we are today.

I could be a little leaner, could lift heavier weights, could be more flexible.

But hey, I’m trying. I’m lifting four days a week, tracking my food, making it to yoga when I can. I’m putting in the work.

And while I’m not perfect, I’m in the gym four days more than the person who stays in bed. And I’m making choices my future self will be grateful for.

The same goes for money. None of us are perfect. We often feel like we should have saved more, invested more, been further along, have learnt more about this finance stuff.

But I’m here to tell you: you’re doing fine.

If you’re reading this blog, you have taken one small step. And you’re doing better than the person who’s currently reading about a Kardashian on their phone.

So I wanted to share a few thoughts to inspire you on your money journey.

Truth #1 – Success flows where attention goes. 

I met comedian Claire Hooper at an event last week. If you haven’t listened to her podcast, The Pineapple Project, you should get on that quick smart. She tackles money as someone who has no idea about it, and asks a bunch of experts for their help.

Not only is it entertaining and educational, she also showcases some amazing talent. Like, oh, I dunno – me. Yep, check out this episode for my two cents’ worth.

Anyway, I asked her about her life since she made the series, and whether she’d got her finances in order. “Yes, I’m fabulously rich now!” she said – jokingly of course. In all seriousness though, she said since focusing on money, she had really improved her situation.

I quoted Truth #1 to her and she agreed. So many times in life, we let things languish on a to-do list at the back of our brains. We don’t know how to start, or we think it will be too hard, or we are too dumb, or whatever.

But once we actually pay attention, it comes together. We have useful conversations that move us along. We start reading things that make sense. We take small actions – whether it’s setting up bank accounts, reading our insurance documents or calling our super fund. And then, all of a sudden, we’ve got our shit together with money!

Truth #2 – There is more than one right answer

I sometimes toss around the idea of buying an investment property. Other times I think about whether to buy more shares. But the property market is in flux, and now is not the time to move. Sharemarkets have been doing so well that it’s possible there will be a correction soon.

So, I’m just chucking a bunch of money at my mortgage, paying extra into super, and sitting this one out. I’m totally fine with that.

You see, there is no one right answer when it comes to investing. There are people in the industry who would fight to the death in a cage to prove their investment style is the best. Not just their asset class (shares! property! bonds!), but their style within it (value! passive! unconstrained!).

I’m here to tell you, the successful investor is the one who invests. Of course, follow the basic rules of investing. Like balancing risk and reward (read more here). Not putting all your eggs in one basket (hello diversification!). Reading the fine print. All that grown-up stuff.

But the key thing is to do something (other than piss your money away on shopping and dinners and drinks and manicures and whatever).

Ultimately, the way to build wealth is to spend less than you earn and do something productive with the leftover money. That’s kind of it. As simple and as hard as that.

If you’re wondering how to get started, check out this post.

Truth #3 – You have time on your side 

This could also be expressed as ‘it’s never too late’. Of course it’s better to start early when it comes to investing. There’s a wonderful concept called compound interest, which means the longer you let your gains pile up on each other, the more you make.

But there isn’t a magical number where it’s too late to get started. Ideally, you’d  kick off your great saving and investing habits in your early 20s. But really, who does that? (Well, I did make extra superannuation contributions).

By your thirties or forties you still have a LOT of decades left to live, based on average life expectancy. In fact, at around age 42 you’re still only halfway along the journey. So don’t tell me you can’t do some solid saving and investing for the remaining four decades.

In your 50s, there are still plenty of things you can do for your 80-year-old self. By your 60s, sure there are more challenges, but there are still positive steps to be taken.

You can get started with better habits on any day and at any age. Don’t waste time – even small steps now can make a difference to your bad-arse 80-year-old party-girl self.

Instafamous nanna, Baddie Winkle – Source: Instagram @baddiewinkle

Shopping is not self-care (and other hard truths)

I have a friend who loves to buy designer handbags like I love to buy Kmart homewares. Unfortunately for her, a Gucci bag starts at about $2000, whereas I got an awesome bowl (that looks like it’s made of glass but is really plastic) for $7 this weekend.

Anyway, my friend, let’s call her Jen, said to me the other day, ‘It’s like I have a shopping addiction’. To which I replied ‘No, it’s not like it, you actually do’.

Now, I’m no psychologist, but I’d argue that anyone who has bought one pair of Manolos and one pair of Jimmy Choo’s in the last few months is not living her best financial life.

The thing is, Jen has a stressful and demanding job, and is well-paid for it. She can actually afford these things and still pay a mortgage (I know, right). She’d no doubt pay it off sooner if she avoided the Fendi store, but overall she ain’t going broke.

Thus, my argument against Jen’s shopping habit isn’t just financial. One person’s Kmart spree is another person’s designer outlet haul – just depends on your income.

My argument is that Jen shops to manage stress. She cruises around online stores in an effort to soothe her frazzled mind, filling her shopping cart in the fond hope of filling her soul.

Does it work? Maybe. A little. For a few moments anyway: the moment you buy something and the moment it arrives.

You see, shopping distracts us from our stress or pain or fear or sadness. Same as wine, drugs, or whatever vice we have.

It doesn’t make us deal with it at a deeper level. It doesn’t help us confront the difficulties of our lives.

Self-care has been co-opted 

A short cruise around #selfcare on Insta would have you believe that looking after yourself is all about making green smoothies or buying make-up. That is bullshit.

Self-care, in my opinion, is when you put your mental and physical health first.

It’s when you invest time in doing the inner work that will help you to be happier in your heart. Self-care is writing a journal or going to a counsellor to deal with some thorny issues. It’s when you take time to meditate regularly. It’s sitting down with a friend who  wants to listen to you and hear what you’re dealing with.

Or self-care is committing to a physical practice like yoga or running or weightlifting, because it takes you out of yourself and puts you back into yourself, only better.

You know, that feeling when you’ve nailed standing bow pose after weeks of falling over. Or you run 5km without wanting to die (so I hear, never done it). Or seeing your maximum bench press inch up over months. That’s some awesome self-care right there.

Sure, have a facial, open a bottle of vino or buy some new shoes. I’m not arguing against doing any of those things.

But be clear about the state of mind that’s behind it. You’re having a little break from your bullshit, and that’s it. When you walk out of the salon, or finish the bottle, or put the Manolo’s back in the wardrobe, you’re still there.

You … and your work stresses, relationship issues, state of anxiety, sense of insecurity or whatever aspect of the human condition is messing with you at that point.

So unless you make time to deal with the root cause, you’re gonna keep shopping, drinking or chasing the perfect complexion.

Not only does this hurt your credit card, it leaves you unfulfilled. You are your best investment, and always will be, so invest your time and money in productive ways as often as you can.

What’s your legacy – and how will money shape it?

One of the things we all struggle with is finding the right motivation to do things better.

Making good decisions with your money is hard.

There are so many fun things to spend it on. The Wittner sale! A Shellac manicure! A new handbag! All nice things, I’ll agree. (And all things I have been known to ‘invest’ in).

But if we are to build true wealth, we can’t just buy nice things.

We need to think about the kind of life we’re building. What we want to do, how we want to live, what we want to achieve.

Because money shouldn’t be about what you can own; it should be about what you can do.

A big part of this is what I call ‘Mindful Spending’ – which you can read more about here. But you can also go bigger with your thinking.

What’s your legacy?

I started a new job a couple of months ago, and my first pay was not only more than a month’s worth, it included a nice payrise. I gave myself a month to go a little nuts with it. I called it the ‘month of spending’.

One of the greatest enjoyments I had was taking out people I love and picking up the cheque.

Then I made a ridiculously large order at Dan Murphy’s so that my cocktail cabinet is ready for guests who enjoy Martinis, Old-fashioned’s or Negronis. (I may be partial to those myself, from time to time).

In general, I’ve set up my place with a comfy lounge, a fancy air mattress and good pillows, so that all my friends and family can come stay in the city when they want to. Do I encourage/enable them to go out and have big nights in Surry Hills? Possibly.

Anyway, I’m not telling you this to make you think I’m a good person, or to make you come over to my place (but hey, you’re totally welcome). The point is that money is making me happy, by making other people happy.

If I thought about what I would like to be remembered for one day, I don’t want people to say ‘Belinda had a great collection of boots’ (although, admittedly, I do).

I want them to say ‘Bo was always up for an impromptu cocktail party at her place’. Or maybe, ‘Remember that time she danced on the stage at Arq/in the cage at Stonewall/on the podium at Carmen’s’. (Admittedly, that last one was circa 1998).

So maybe this is a really long way of saying that making memories is just as important as making money.

Finding your why

I understand that not everyone wants to be remembered for their willingness to dance in public. But I’m sure you have an idea of how you want to impact other people’s lives.

I’m not advocating that you spend on other people before yourself. Like the oxygen masks on the plane, fix your own financial situation before anyone else’s. But do with an eye for how it impacts others.

Here are some questions you might ask yourself, when you’re trying to get serious about not wasting money:

  • How does my spending affect other people around me, either positively or negatively?
  • Do my current spending choices make feel good? How good? What would make them feel even better?
  • Am I setting myself up for positive opportunities down the track? Or is my spending focused on short-term sugar hits?

Sometimes, it’s good to take a step back and think about the bigger picture.

And hopefully, it will be one more motivator to make good decisions with your money.

 

 

3 things to remember for smashing the patriarchy

I was sitting under a tree at my holiday house recently, next to my older and wiser cousin Jenny. I asked her, kind of out of the blue, “Do you ever wonder if you’re doing enough to smash the patriarchy?”.

“No”, she said. “Never crosses my mind”.

However, she is a bad-arse woman who gets shit done all the time. She is a certified Fierce Girl-level budgeter. She empowers her 14-yo daughter every day. So Jenny is actually helping with the smashing-the-patriarchy job all the time, whether or not she thinks about it.

And we can all do that. We don’t need an International Women’s Day to be empowered, awesome, independent or feminist. We slay all day, erry day.

However, since we are allocated one day a year to step this up, I feel compelled to celebrate it. So, today, I give you some fiercely held beliefs that underpin the Fierce Girl Finance universe.

  1. You are way better at money than you think. Yep, you’re a financial guru in the making. Ever watched a make-up contouring tutorial on YouTube? Ever done the mental math on how many tops in your wardrobe go with the skirt you’re wearing in the change room? Ever done some sneaky calorie calculations to work out whether you should drink this glass of wine?

    I thought so. Fact is, we are always learning, researching, calculating and rationalising in our everyday lives. And these are all the skills required to get in control of our money. Don’t let anyone (especially yourself) tell you that you’re ‘just not good with money’. Women are fucking great at it, when we give ourselves permission to be.

  2. Nobody cares about your money as much as you. Not your husband, boyfriend or father. Not your bank manager, fund manager or financial adviser. The best person to look out for your interests is YOU.

    Educate yourself, go with your gut, ask difficult questions and generally be a pushy bitch when it comes to managing your money. The only person you can always rely on to have your interests at heart is yourself, so you may as well give yourself the education and knowledge to kick arse at finance.

  3. You have more hurdles to overcome, so you’d better ‘work bitch’.  As with so many life events, Britney said it best. You’ better work, bitch, because as a woman, you start behind the 8-ball.

    We get paid less, for complex reasons (including structural workforce issues and not asking enough). We have lots of time out of the workforce to care for kids and elderly parents. And we end up in lower-paid sectors that someone (maaaybe men) have decided are worth less.

    Regardless of all the complex reasons, there is just one solution: work and save hard. We have to (as usual) do even more to get ahead. We need to add more to super early on, before we have kids. We have to take charge of our cashflow and budgets to make sure we save for the future. And we have to make sure we have money set aside for disasters (aka a Fuck-off fund).

So,  for IWD2018 this year, I say what I say 364 other days of the year: money is power. If you  take charge of it, you take charge of your life.

Please ladies: go forth and be fierce. 

 

3 Money Questions for 2018 (no resolutions required)

New year’s resolutions are made to be broken.

I know that sounds a little Negative Nancy, but hey, I’m not here to piss in your pocket and tell you it’s raining.

Something about a new year fills us with good intentions. But just as the gym empties out by mid-February (thank God), our intentions fade away as time goes by.

Last year I made a resolution to meditate daily. I did it for like six weeks before I decided I don’t like it and would just keep meditating while I do squats.

So, let’s not say we won’t go into Priceline during their 2-day sales. Let’s not lie to ourselves that we will only have drinks in happy hour. Let’s not pretend we’re never walking into a nail salon again. I mean, we can aim to do those things, but will it actually happen? Probably not.

(Although, if you do want some practical money saving tips, check out last year’s very popular post.)

Instead, as we kick off 2018, let’s think about what we will learn, and be, and think. In fact, let’s try these thought experiments.

Question your beliefs – Humans like to build a narrative about ourselves and then stick to it, even if it ceases to serve our interests. But sometimes, we need a Tyler Durden in our lives, to come in and break our narratives apart. (Fight Club reference – and excuse to include a shirtless Brad Pitt pic).

So, I challenge you to identify and question some of your beliefs. You need $X00000 income to be comfortable? You need to spend $X000 a month to be happy? You can only save $X00 a week? Maybe you do, maybe you don’t. But go through the process of questioning it.

One thing my job revealed to me in 2017 is the ridiculous bubble I live in (inner-city, professional, finance industry). I think that a certain income is the minimum needed to be financially comfortable.

Then I see these loan scenarios where the applicant earns $60,000 a year and has saved $20,000 and paid off their credit card debt and raised two kids and whatever. And I realise there is a whole world out there of people who a) have it way harder than me and b) are way better with money than me.

So, while Australians have a strong aversion to discussing money, it can be worthwhile. See how others live. See how much they spend and save. Hang out in Facebook groups like ‘Frugal Aussie Families’ and you’ll find another world out there.

Question the world’s beliefs – We get on a train of middle-class aspiration in our late teens, and get off it when we retire in our 60s or 70s. The conventions of this journey are that we work one job at a time, put money aside for retirement, buy as many things as we can, have the nicest house we can and spend as much on our kids as we can.

But not everyone has to stay on that train, or stick to its rules. Maybe we want to work two jobs, so we can save more and retire early. Maybe we don’t have to constantly ratchet up our lifestyles as our income grows – instead, we could save the surplus and pay off our debts earlier. Maybe we don’t have to upgrade our TVs, cars, phones or wardrobes as often as other people.

I’m not saying there is one right or wrong path. But there are definitely some things we could consider calling bullshit on.

There is a movement called FI/RE that is all about being frugal, building your net worth and retiring early with a decent income.  These people (and I’m one of them) reject the notion that you need to be working for the man for 50-odd years. They believe that re-engineering your life can give you more opportunities.

The go-to guy on this is called Mr Money Mustache, who retired at 30 (WTF) and writes a wildly popular blog, if you’re interested.

It sounds a bit out there, and you might not believe it all. But the point is that it can be helpful to question the conventional wisdom about money.

Question your goals – That is, if you  have financial goals. Many people have one immediate aim – such as saving for a home deposit, paying off a credit card or getting on top of the mortgage. But while that’s useful, it’s not necessarily enough.

Having short, medium and long-term goals is a better option. Not just vague intentions – but actual, thought-through goals, with a strategy to achieve them.

My goals (simplified for this post) look something like this:

  • Short-term: Fund an epic 2018 holiday with Gigi
  • Medium-term: pay off twice the minimum on my mortgage repayments so I can smash the interest costs; look at ways to leverage equity for investment purposes
  • Long-term: Have enough assets to cease full-time employment by age 55

Now obviously there are a shitload of variables that could derail those goals over time. But having them gives me a sense of purpose and helps me make decisions.

Question your influences – How do the people around you impact your money decisions?

In a financial sense, not being married has been a game changer for me. My ex-husband is a good guy and he works hard. But we had very different ideas about money (as many couples do). It was like being in a rowboat, each paddling in a different direction, with the result that we didn’t go anywhere.

But it’s not just your partner who plays a part. The way your friends spend money has a big impact too.

Firstly, there’s the practical choice of bars they want to go to or activities they choose to do, the ridiculous hen’s parties they make you pay for etc. In some cases you have to go along with these – while other times you can often suggest alternatives. In my experience, people usually welcome a tight-arse option!

But then there’s a more subtle influence. Sometimes it’s the desire to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ – having stuff that’s as good as theirs. But other times it’s a quiet, normalising influence. The notion that it’s normal to have new cars, to upgrade TVs, to get eyelash extensions, to buy daily coffees, or one of a thousand things that may in fact be a waste of money.

I’m not saying you should dump your friends! But maybe you can look critically at some of the things your social circle accepts as the norm. And don’t be afraid to do things differently.

So that’s my challenge to you this year. Think critically. Educate yourself on other perspectives and experiences. Go forth and be fierce!

Want to be wealthy? Put that calculator down! (It’s not about numbers)

I had a conversation with myself on the way home today. It was a bit of a Smeagol – Gollum moment (for the Tolkien fans out there).

Gollum: You should get a Shellac mani-pedi for the Christmas party and holidays.

Smeagol: That’s a solid 70 bucks. You don’t need that. You have a mortgage. And an extensive collection of nail polish.

Gollum: But you have the money. Treat yo’ self!

Smeagol: Yeah but if you keep saying that, you won’t pay off your mortgage early and live a sweet life of early retirement.

I’m pleased to say that the thrifty Smeagol won the day. Almost – I did pick up a new nail gold nail polish from Priceline, but it was half price! And behold:

Home manicures for the win!

I tell this story because it happened after two interesting conversations this week, with two seriously wealthy guys. The first one was an ex-investment banker telling me why he can’t retire at 58: he can’t afford it. I was bamboozled. I imagined he was sitting on a pile of stock options, had millions in the bank and was set for life.

But he reckons he has set up his life in a certain way, and it’s costly. And when he listed some of his expenses, all I could think was ‘That sounds like a prison’. Imagine being locked into all those costs, so that you had to keep slogging away in corporate purgatory.

(I’m sure for some people, the grind itself is the point. I work for a self-made millionaire, and I have no doubt he loves doing deals more than the money itself.)

Then today, I was talking to another successful CEO. I ribbed him a bit about having money, and he got quite philosphical about it. He invests money on behalf of other, seriously rich people, so he knows a lot of them.

He said that wealth is a mindset. I’ll paraphrase: “You can have someone worth $5 million, who thinks they’re doing really well, and who is satisfied with their money. But then you can have someone with $100 million, but it never feels like enough, and they’re always searching for more, and never feel secure”.

Now I know what you’re thinking: “I’d be pretty fucking over the moon about having even one of those millions”. But that’s beside the point.

The point is this: it’s not about how much money you have; it’s about how you see it. Do you have an abundance mindset, or a scarcity mindset?

What does money really mean?

When I think of money, I tend to think of it as a tool for creating the life I want. I don’t want to slog my guts out for a finance company one minute longer than I need to.

I want to build my wealth to a point where I can work part-time, write a novel, work for a charity … or whatever. But I still want a comfortable lifestyle that involves travel and cool stuff.

Now, I know not everyone thinks like that. Maybe you think of money as a means to physical self-actualisation – to have the clothes, hair, nails, body or whatever else you want to look and feel your best.

Maybe you see money as a way to reward your hard work and flag your success – a brand name bag or car tells you (and the world) that you’ve worked hard and achieved success. (While I am over here enjoying my new $15 K-Mart bag).

The fact is, money is never just money. It’s part of a deep and complex set of beliefs. It’s bound up in the way you see yourself and relate to the world.

Nor is that relationship static. It changes over time and in line with your life experiences.

I found myself earnestly lecturing a 24-year-old friend at the pub the other night: “Nobody cares what brand your handbag is, and if they do, you shouldn’t be friends with them anyway”.

God, when did I get so old and parental? It’s a long way from when I had my first job and coveted a Fendi baguette bag (hey, it was 2001).

One lesson that my investment banker friend highlighted is the danger of unconsciously ratcheting up your cost base as years go by. It’s easy to end up as a prisoner of your own lifestyle.

When you get stuck in the merry-go-round of things like salon nails, it’s one more thing that you have to fund (which I have written about here).

Sure, the K-Mart lifestyle isn’t for everyone. I’m not saying give up everything nice and be a boring tight-arse. But focusing on keeping your tastes and expectations modest can be very powerful – especially when it lets you do other, more interesting or meaningful things with money.

The secret to being wealthy is wanting less. If you can consistently create a surplus – so you have a little left over each month to save and invest – then you’re on your way to wealth creation.

As you set your goals for next year, and maybe have some good intentions around money, I would ask you to consider this idea.

More than just making a budget, how can you shift your thinking about what -and how much – you need to be happy?

I know, that is some serious inner work, and harder than downloading a budgeting app*. However,  it may be the most effective way to build your wealth over time.

*Please download a budgeting app as well.

 

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