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The Fierce Girl's Guide to Finance

Get your shit together with money

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Manage my spending

I don’t mean to alarm you but it’s nearly f@*#king Christmas!

Ladies, this is not a drill. There are only seven shopping weekends left until Christmas.

Maybe you’re the type of girl who excitedly starts playing Mariah Carey at the first hint of festivities.

Maybe you’re a cynic who likes mince pies but dreads the consumerist orgy of yuletide.

Maybe you hate the enforced family proximity of holiday season.

But no matter where you fall on the Grinchometer, you can’t avoid Christmas (ok, maybe if you’re Muslim or Jewish or Hindu. But even then, you probably still watch Love Actually and eat a box of Favourites).

Nor can you avoid the financial pressures that the season brings. Not only are there all the gifts to buy, there are other sneaky costs.

The extra social events are a big one – not all of them include free booze from your work, so you end up eating out and drinking more.

Then there are extra party season outfits, accessories and salon trips. (It’s my birthday in December too, so the pressure is on).

And of course there are holidays themselves, and all the expense of going away, if you’re lucky enough to do that. I only have to hang out at my cousin’s place in WA but that bitch is gonna make me get drunk and buy wine in Margaret River, I guarantee.

So this is a short post, but with some important take-aways:

  • Start planning and buying gifts NOW – there are no sales in December, friends (until it’s too late, on boxing day). So try and start looking for bargains now, or at least space out your purchases so it’s not one big shitfight for your cashflow. Then check out different vendors to see has the cheapest version. Don’t just wander into Myer and hope for the best. A new release book, for example, can be $40 in one store and $20 in another. Do your research.
  • Make a list of people to buy for and what you’re getting them – and do it before you hit the shops. It will stop you panicking and buying too much or the wrong thing, in a moment of exhaustion or panic.
  • Have a conversation with your family NOW to set limits and expectations – if you’re feeling the pinch financially, now’s the time to fess up. Say to mum and dad and siblings ‘hey, I have some savings goals, can we put a limit on gifts this year?’ Or do the kris kringle thing. What you’ll often find is that when one person tries to de-escalate the gift war, other people are relieved.
  • Make a special ‘Festive Season’ mindful spending manifesto – this is an exercise where you think seriously about where to allocate your spending (read more here). In this season, it’s easy to get sucked into a whole bunch of costs, as mentioned above. So have a talk with yourself about where to scrimp and where to save. If you choose to splash out on gifts, then put that party dress back on the rack. Want to buy French champagne? Then tone down the seafood platter you bring on Christmas Day. You get my drift – the key is not to start spending, and then think ‘oh well I’m screwed now, let’s keep going’. Go in strategically and be a tight-arse on some things. Like, I promise not to buy any new Christmas lights. Well, maybe just one set…

Of course I would tell you not to smash the credit card too hard, but you know that. And you’re going to do it or not, regardless of my lecture. But hopefully the tips above can help you limit the damage.

So, have a great party season and get cracking on your festive dance routines!

By the way, as a bonus, this is a message I got this week from my above-mentioned cousin. You can see where I got my thrifty habits…

1 science truthbomb and 3 ways it will help you save money

Do you ever find that when you’re being ‘good’ with your diet, you’re really good in the morning. No muffins for me!

Pretty good at lunch. I’ll take the sushi instead of the schnitzel thanks.

And by 3pm? If I open the work pantry and there happen to be TimTams, it’s not my fault if they fall into my mouth.

Well, you’re not alone my friend. There is a real scientific concept called decision fatigue.

From the moment we wake up, we’re forced to make all these small decisions. What to wear, what to eat, when to leave, how long to spend on Instagram.

And this literally drains our brains of power.

In fact, a study on this topic found that judges hearing parole cases were more likely to grant parole in the morning, when they were fresh and unfatigued. When they got tired and cranky, it was easier just to say ‘no, go back to jail’.

The one variable was that straight after lunch, they perked up and started saying yes more. Until TimTam o’clock, that is.

There’s a really cool article about it here if you’re interested. One of my faves, James Clear, also has a great post.

But the take-outs for me, in relation to money, were three-fold.

1. Don’t shop at night – I’m as fond of a Thursday night jaunt as the next girl. But if you’re tired and over work, there’s a good chance you’ll make questionable decisions about what to buy.

Of course, we may have shopping emergencies (who doesn’t?). But in general, try and save your shopping sprees for a weekend morning, or at least a lunch break after you’ve eaten. Much better chance of buying something you actually need and like.

Similarly, cruising the ASOS or Iconic websites in front of the TV might not be the best habit if you’re trying to save money.

Maybe just limit yourself to filling your shopping cart but not hitting the checkout til the next day. You’ll feel differently in the morning – I very rarely make a purchase in this scenario.

2. Sometimes a ban is easier than moderation – If you’re trying to make decisions about whether to buy something, and you’ve already made a bunch of choices that day, it’s pretty easy to say ‘bugger it, spend the money’.

But what about if it’s not even an option? No decision required in that case.

If I’m trying to save money, I ban myself from shopping for a month. I also find it easier for losing weight. For instance, if I have to try and weigh up whether to have a wine, I usually go with yes.

But if I just say ‘no booze in October’, then I don’t expend energy trying to justify it.

I get that not everyone works like this (the rebels among us). Some people just need to break a rule as soon as they impose it.

So, my friend Jo said that when she moved to being a vegetarian, she gave herself a ‘once a week’ option of eating meat. She didn’t end up using it much, but was comforted by that slice of freedom.

So maybe it’s not a shopping ban – instead, it’s ‘I can buy one piece of clothing this month’. And you may not even find anything. But the rebel in you will feel ok about not being told what to do.

3 . Automate the shit out of everything – One of the most important parts of achieving financial security is to pay yourself first. In other words, put your savings aside in a nicely inaccessible account as soon as you get paid.

Do you ever spend the weeks after payday going out, buying lunches, hitting the shops and all that cool stuff, and then seeing how much you have left over to save? If so, the odds are it’s a big fat zero.

So try and automate things like saving and paying bills. Have a direct debit into various accounts. Check out this post for some tips on how to structure your bank accounts – boring but possibly life-changing!

So there are three things that science can help you with, and they apply to other good behaviours too. One of the reasons I food prep like a boss (some of my tips here) is that it takes away the need to decide. You don’t have to weigh up healthy or unhealthy, expensive or cheap. You just eat your darn curry and shut up. It’s strangely liberating, I promise!

How to nail your holiday without a credit card hangover

Don’t mind me and my poolside photo – I just got back from a couple of weeks in Mexico.

I’ll admit that many margaritas were consumed, as were a wide selection of tortilla-based foods with unlimited guacamole.

I also spent a few days in Los Angeles. If you have to fly in that way, it would be wrong not to stop and sample some of the retail outlets.

So, I came back with a tan, four pairs of sneakers, $50 tracksuit pants from Victoria’s Secret (no regrets – my butt looks amazing in them), and a slightly obscene amount of make-up from Sephora.

What I didn’t come back with was a credit card debt. Well, admittedly, I don’t have a credit card. But the point is, I didn’t slide into debt or even have a major blow-out.

My traveling companion and general partner-in-crime, Gigi, is also a finance nerd, moneysaver, and travels a lot.

So we spent some time on the daybed by the pool, discussing what tips we could share with the Fierce Girl community. There are basically two.

Be flexible on your destination.

Gigi puts it this bluntly: “If you don’t want to spend a lot, don’t go to Western Europe”. Harsh, I know.

But Europe is effing expensive to fly to and to spend time in. And sure, Paris is amazing, but so are  thousands of other cities all over the world. (Can I suggest Mexico City for amazing food on the cheap?).

So if you’re at a point where you’re trying to save for something else, or you aren’t earning that much, think very carefully about where you go.

Start by thinking about the particular elements you’re after. Gigi and I picked Mexico through a process of elimination. Argentina was originally our choice, but it’s cold at this time of year. Flying time was an issue – I live in Sydney, Gigi lives in New York – so we needed somewhere that worked for us both.

And then there were the actual activities – we wanted a bit of culture, some relaxing and some shopping. A lot of places tick these boxes. Mexico was one of them – and it was pretty easy on the old wallet.

Someone asked me about going there for Christmas holidays. My answer is that if you just want a resort experience, go to Bali. It’s five hours flying (not 20), it’s cheap, and all you do is sit by the pool and maybe go to the beach.

Many years ago, I dropped a ton of cash on going to Tahiti for my honeymoon, when I could have done basically the same thing in Fiji or Bali. Not a great return on investment.

So, bottom line, think about the actual elements of a holiday that you want, then get creative and curious about where you can get those. Ask people, read blogs, talk to travel agents. There are way more places to holiday than Europe.

Decide which things you’ll throw money at – and won’t

Maybe this sounds obvious – but holy shit, some people are brats about their holidays.

Some insist they will die if they stay in anything less than a 3-star hotel. (I’m ok with a dorm room hostel in a pinch). Other people have to try the best restaurants in a city and can’t stand the thought of eating bread and cheese in the park. Like yeah, we all have our quirks but hold up, you aren’t the Queen of England.

The key is to decide which things mean a lot to you. Why have fancy accommodation if you’re one of those tourists who has to be out, doing stuff for 18 hours out of 24 each day?

Then it’s about finding little ways to cut costs, so that they all add up and you can spend more on the things you like.

Sometimes it takes is a bit of research. For example, Gigi worked out that we could take a nice air-conditioned coach from Cancun airport to Playa del Carmen for just US$14. That compared to hiring a driver for upwards of $50. But if we didn’t know that in advance, we would have walked out of the airport and been totally overwhelmed by the choices.

And we chatted to some lovely Scandinavian flight crew at a taco stand in Mexico City, who told us about the super cheap tix to the dance show at the Arts Centre. So talk to strangers too!

The other thing to plan is your shopping. I knew I was buying Nike, Victoria’s Secret and Sephora, because they are great in the US. So I planned that into my spending and didn’t get too dazzled by other stuff.

My hot tip with souvenir-type purchases is to imagine it in your house or wardrobe. I’ve learnt the hard way that some handicrafts and costumes look amazing at the markets, and then you’re stuck lugging around a bloody ceramic platter – and it ends up looking tacky on the dining table at home! So I’m pretty strict with myself now.

Look, I’m no budget travel hacker. There are proper experts out there who do that.

I would just say you need to apply the same mindful spending approach to travel, as you do to everything else.

Spend on some thing, cut corners elsewhere, and remember – posting photos on social media to make people jealous – that is totally free!

Gone a little crazy with spending? Here’s how to get back on track

Being good with money is like being good with your diet. Damn hard to do all the time.

(And easy to get annoyed with those freaks who are).

Another similarity is that they are both money and spending are easy to get carried away with, then spiral into disaster.

Like when you eat some birthday cake at work in the morning. And then figure you may as well eat a burrito for lunch. And then the day is buggered, so you might as well have three wines and a bowl of wedges. Then a burger.

I know, that sounds like an awesome and delicious day. But we all know it ends in guilt and shame by the time we go to bed  a little drunk.

Money is the same. When things get a bit out of control, it’s easy to let them get even more out of control. And the more it gets away from you, the more depressing it is, so you might as well treat yo’self.

But no! Don’t!

We don’t have to let a few bad decisions derail our good habits.

Just because you accidentally fell into Kookai and bought a dress, doesn’t mean you need to buy matching shoes. And just because your credit card is close to being maxed, it doesn’t mean you may as well hit the limit anyway.

So, here are some friendly tips to help you get out of the shame spiral, when things get a little cray-cray in financial department.

  • Check your bank statements – Sounds simple, I know. But just like I have a deep aversion to opening mail (because it always requires subsequent admin), it’s tempting to keep the banking app closed and invisible.

    Maybe you need to rope in a friend or partner here – but the key is to just dive in and check the damage. Let’s be honest, it’s always better to know what you’re working with, rather than have a vague number rattling around your head. And hey, there are always rewards: knock yourself out with a Tim-Tam after you’ve done it.

  • Identify the culprits – You usually have a good idea of what’s causing blowouts. Either too much shopping, too much going out or indulging in whatever hobby/collection/sport you love. But it’s really useful to have a bit of a reckoning, where you go through the above-mentioned bank statement and face the reality of ‘I spent how much on booze last Friday night?‘. Because then you’re ready for the next step.
  • Work out what’s going on in your head – What’s driving these blowouts? Is it a response to stress at work or home? Are you distracting yourself from some relationship shit? Are you partying a lot because you’re nearly 40 and your youth is quickly slipping away (asking for a friend…).

    It may be that when you’re honest with yourself, you can look for other ways to deal with the issue you’re avoiding. Do some yoga. Get some therapy. Tell your boss/partner to fuck off. Whatever works! But until you get to the root cause, it could be hard to sort your money out.

  • Get clear on your goals – I always find it hard to be disciplined if I don’t have a clear goal -whether it’s getting bikini-ready for Mexico (an actual thing that’s happening – yay!), or hitting a savings goal (money for said trip).

    If you’re drifting from your good behaviour, it’s time to refocus on your goals – whether they are short, medium or long-term. (And if you don’t know, check out this post).

    You should also review if those goals are working for you – if they’re too far away, you can lose track. If they’re too unrealistic, same deal. Make sure your goals are SMART if you want them to work hard for you: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, Timebound.

    Once you have an idea of where you’re going, it’s much easier to stay on the journey.

Remember,  you don’t have to perfect with money (or anything, actually). But you do need to believe you can do better, even just a bit better, at any given time.

Did you know that you’re actually awesome and talented and empowered and enlightened and fierce AF? You just need to believe it. And work up the courage to open your banking app…

Good luck Fierce Girls!

Are these 4 spending traps blowing your budget?

There’s a curious thing about modern, middle-class life. We can afford things. We have money to spend. But we’re not very good at it.

Sure, we have to cover the boring bills and housing costs. But someone with a decent income has a bit of flex left in their budget. The dilemma is deciding what to do with it.

I’ve been thinking about this lately. How do we know if we can afford something?

Or more accurately, how do we decide what we can afford?

It’s more complicated than it sounds. Humans are notoriously bad with delayed gratification. So, when we’re deciding how to allocate our money, we often choose what’s right in front of us.

Shiny things, fun things, easy things!

In a perfect world of financial responsibility, we wouldn’t go shopping or to the pub until we’d put extra money into our savings,  our mortgage, or investments. But life is not perfect, nor are we.

But I have a theory that the key to building wealth is saying, “I know I can afford this, but should I?”.

There are some common spending traps that we should be conscious of in life. We would do well to notice, pause and reflect on these … before we get out our wallets.

Emotional spending

Maybe most spending is emotional. We have a vision of our lives that we’re trying to fulfill. To look a certain way, present a certain way, create a certain story about ourselves.

But there is also a particular type of emotional spending that’s a response to a situation. It’s called retail therapy, and it’s bullshit.

Therapy is a positive process that makes you face your feelings and deal with them. Shopping is just avoiding those feelings.

Spending to soothe your pain – or at least delay it – is a trap.

(I’m not saying I haven’t done it, but I will say I have I ended up with poorly fitting outfits.)

Solution? Process your emotions, rather than avoiding them. Call a friend, go for a run, hit the gym (my personal favourite). Maybe even go to real therapy (seriously – it’s great – I wrote about it here).

Mindless/lazy spending

This is my hobby horse, so get ready for a rant.

If you’re spending fifty bucks a week buying lunch, because you can’t haul your arse into a supermarket, then it’s time to reassess your life choices.

It’s not about having time, it’s about having priorities.  I’m not saying you need to spend hours in the kitchen every night. Commit a short period of time to even the most half-hearted food prep, and you’ll thank yourself. (I gotchu fam – tips here and here).

Same goes for spending too much at the pub/cocktail bar, because it’s a habit and your friends do it and you can’t think of anything else to do that’s cheaper or more satisfying.

Look, everyone likes a night out, but if it’s your default, then maybe have think about the habits you’re forming.

Solution: Work out where your downfall is, and how much time or effort you need to fix it. It may be less than you think.

Routine spending

It’s easy to think something is necessary because you do it a lot. But it just means you’ve set your baseline at a particular level: regular salon sessions, eyelash extensions, getting your hair done every six weeks, or whatever recurring cost has become part of your routine.

I was convinced that one-on-one coaching every week was definitely necessary and justified. But having stopped it this year, it turns out, it’s not. I love my coach, but do I have other financial priorities right now? Yes. (Am I a good enough powerlifter to justify the cost of coaching? No)

Solution: I’m not saying you shouldn’t treat yourself. I’m saying to think about what you have normalised in your life, and whether it’s serving you well.

Social-pressure spending

The social pressure of money is a real thing.

People don’t like to say ‘I can’t afford that’. There’s a perceived shame in noting the lofty financial expectations people place on others.

So you either find money for things, or whack it on credit cards.

Hen’s weekend that’s gonna cost 300 bucks? Suck it up and pay.

Friday night drinks that cost $50 a round? Deal with it.

Group birthday present for $100 each? Sign me up.

And before you know it, the budget is blown.

Solution: Generosity is good, but you don’t have to get on board the crazy-cost-train every time you’re asked. If you have a financial goal you’re working to, make it known. “Sorry, I’ve got some aggressive savings goals for my house deposit. Can we look at some other options, or I will do my own thing”.

Real friends will be chill about that. Shallow friends can eat a bag of dicks.

Set yourself up for success

Look, I know this stuff isn’t always easy. The first step is being clear on your goals – it’s easier to say no if you know the reason. I highly recommend working on your goals (here) and mindful spending manifesto (here).

Then you’ll be set up for success when it comes to saying no, or not today, or not ever.

How to be a total boss with your money in 2018

Hey Fierce Girls, it’s time to chat. I have made two short videos on Facebook. It’s the start of the year, so they are all about getting your sh*t together with the basics. Check them out below, and be sure to sign up to the Facebook page for future videos. By the way, click the sound button in the bottom right corner if you can’t hear the audio.

Here’s the first one – working out what it costs to be you:

And here are five steps to take control of your spending:

 

I won’t lie – I’m thinking I will start a theme of novelty slogan t-shirts for these videos.

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.

 

6 of the best: Fierce Girl’s top posts to help you makeover your money

I’m gonna call it. The Fierce Girl’s Guide to Finance is going places.

Last week we had our first original content posted on Mamamia: a Money Makeover, helping Theresa make a plan to save $25,000. Check it out here.

Then The Daily Mail got wind of the story and got in touch. Let me tell you, after 17 years in PR, the idea of a journalist calling me (about something good) is absolute bliss! Usually we have to shop our stories around and beg journalists to write them.

The outcome was a story where I seemed to scold everyone a lot, but hopefully also provide some useful tips (read it here). And just in case anyone was wondering my age, they helpfully plastered it everywhere. I hope the undertone was ‘wow, doesn’t she look great for her age‘.

I think the reason for this momentum comes down to a few things. Firstly, there isn’t much competition. Not many others are talking to women about money in a no-bullshit way.

Secondly, it’s an idea whose time has come. Ridiculous house prices, rising energy costs, stupidly high uni fees, and a stubborn gender pay gap are just some of the reasons women are realising why we need to look after our own interests.

Turns out, middle-aged white guys in suits aren’t racing to share their power or wealth with us. Huh, who knew? (As a group that is – individually, my dad is actually pretty good at giving me money).

The third reason is obviously the awesome content being pumped out by these fierce fingers. But let’s not dwell on that.

The blog has been around for just over a year, but there are lots of new readers. Hi ladies! Thanks for coming by!

So, let me point you to some of the most popular or useful posts. (NB: this is not like a TV show where they run out of budget for a whole new episode so they just have a storyline full of flashbacks. It’s because there is good content that could be useful to you).

1. How to think about your money as though you’re in an episode of Sex and the City. 

The 4 best friends who will make you rich

 

 

 

 

 

2. Hacks to help you  overhaul your approach to money (even if it’s not January)

7 money resolutions you can keep in 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. How to set up your banking to make your life easier and your spending more enjoyable

The secret to guilt-free spending

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. How mindful spending can help you have a better relationship with money

Mindful spending: what it is and why it matters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5. What to read if you’re thinking about buying a home or are freaking out about not doing it

Can I afford my own home? Part I and Can I afford my own home? Part II

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6. How to get started with investing 

Buying shares is pretty much like choosing a husband

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)

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