Sure things aren’t perfect. Sure we are facing an outbreak of Coronavirus, but maybe it’s best to just sit yourself down like Elle Woods watching hot guys play sport. (On TV though, to be safe).
Of course, some people will get sick. A small proportion will sadly die from complications, in the same way people die from the flu every year. But this is not 1918 and we are not all going to perish from a Spanish flu pandemic.
What we are really witnessing on the markets, in the media and in the supermarket aisles is panic.
This is a downturn driven by emotion.
I suspect that in the face of a vague sense of existential dread caused by climate change and growing wealth inequality and political instability, the virus is something to focus our collective panic on. We can’t stop companies burning dirty coal but goddamn it we can buy some hand sanitiser!
For most people, the biggest threat is not to our health, but to our economic security. There is quite likely to be a recession or at least a downturn. (A recession is technically two quarters of negative economic growth).
The biggest consequence of a recession is that people lose their jobs. Employers create fewer jobs. Casual staff have their hours cut. It takes longer to find a new job.
A recession means people buy less stuff and use fewer services and that’s at the core of the employment market.
What does this mean for you?
Build your emergency fund.
Ideally you will have three months of living expenses tucked away in a place that’s neither too easy to access (like, on a night out), nor too hard. You don’t really want your emergency funds in the sharemarket in case it falls in value at exactly the time you need it (like now).
Having an account with a different bank to your normal one is a popular option. Remember that the Australian Government guarantees bank deposits (up to $250,000 per account, per bank) so it’s pretty darn safe.
Another good idea? Start dusting off your CV and kick up your networking a notch.
Even in good economic times, you never know when you might walk into work one day and be made redundant (God, isn’t that an awful expression?).
So it’s not a bad idea to keep your CV up to date, know some relevant recruiters and make sure you’re out and about at industry events.
I know, networking events are hard work, but they exist for a reason – not because we enjoy balancing plates and wine glasses in one hand and trying to remember four people’s names.
What about my investments?
If you’ve already made your emergency fund, and are worried about your investments, this is a perfect time to do nothing. Or buy more.
OK that’s my opinion, and I’m not an adviser. But the key thing to ask is: am I an investor or a day-trader?
If you’re investing for your future self, then you have to remember that market downturns are as inevitable as someone on Married at First Sight cheating on their fake spouse.
If you don’t need the money right now, it’s time to chill. Or as some market pundits (like this guy) are saying, it may even be time to buy.
I’ve been dropping money into my Raiz account (because I’m too lazy to pick things). My friend just bought a big chunk of bank shares. Another friend who recently bought Gold ETFs is boasting about how well they are doing.
I’m not saying any or all of us are correct, but what we have in common is this: we have taken a view and acted on it.
We also have our other ducks in a row, in terms of mortgages and emergency funds.
The worst thing you can do right now is look at your portfolio on a daily basis. The shorter time-frame you look at, the worst it will seem.
This is the ASX100 if you just look at it over 6 months.
But this is what it looks like over the last 10 years.
Sure it’s down now, but it’s still up overall. It looks even better over a longer period but the ASX tool doesn’t go longer than that and I’m too busy to find another one.
The point is this: investing is a long-term thing.
So what I’m basically here to say is:
Be alert but not alarmed. The world isn’t ending;
If you have spare cash you might buy some cheap investments;
But if you need spare cash in case you’re out of work for a while, keep it in the bank.
A lot of tasks. A lot of responsibilities. A lot of items on the ‘live your best life’ self-improvement list.
If watching Miss Americana taught me one thing (and look, it taught me many), it’s that if even Taylor Swift feels overwhelmed sometimes, we all do.
We are all Taylor, yo.
And somewhere in between jobs and partners and kids and to-do’s, we are meant to be building our financial fitness.
Setting budgets, searching out specials, putting savings aside, and a whole lot of other things.
But it’s hard. And we are busy. So today, I’m here to make a deal with you.
How about you pick JUST ONE THING?
Just one thing to focus on this month, in the pursuit of financial-best-selfness.
Now, it’s totally up to you which thing you do. And guess what, I’m giving you five to choose from!
Option 1: Track your expenses everyday – You can either download an app (there are plenty) or simply log into your bank account every day.
The closer you get to all those spending decisions, the more you’ll be encouraged to think twice about them.
For bonus points, you could download your statements from the last couple of months and do a backwards-looking review. But I don’t know if that counts as TWO things, so, no pressure.
Option 2: Give up one expense/bad habit – We all know our kryptonite spending habit. Maybe it’s buying that second coffee in the afternoon. Maybe it’s logging onto the Iconic to ‘browse’. Maybe it’s going up to the fun level of the mall when you only came to buy groceries (like me).
It’s easy to feel like a failure if you go too hard. Tempted to do a Marie-Kondo on your entire wardrobe and vow to never buy another piece of clothing? Not recommended.
It’s impossible, and then failure becomes a demotivator.
Instead, target one habit that’s not serving you well and get on top of it.
Option 3: Unsubscribe to all your shopping newsletters – The email equivalent of an all-over body scrub at a spa. It legit took me five minutes and I feel so fresh and clean!
I found a tool called unroll.me and linked it to my Gmail. In seconds it had scraped a list of all my subscriptions.
No Supre, I do not need those personalised booty shorts.
No Review, I don’t care if you have 30% off clothes I don’t need.
So much less tempting if you don’t know about it!
Bonus round is reviewing all your other micropayment subscriptions like Netflix, Stan, Spotify, Apple Music etc. I’ve heard of people who pay for one streaming service, their family member pays for the other, and then they share. Obviously I would never advocate such unethical behaviour. Just the word on the street.
Option 4: Log into your super – The point of this is simply to make friends with it. Think of it as a friendly coffee catch-up with your retirement savings.
If you don’t know how to log in, that’s the main task. Set yourself up, even if means giving your fund (or funds) a quick call. If you already have a log-in, skip to the next part.
Once you’re in, check your balance, update your contact details and make sure your employer has actually been paying you for the last year (can you believe this doesn’t always happen?).
Bonus round is reviewing your investment option and insurance coverage, and/or rolling over accounts with other funds. But that’s intermediate level – read this post for more tips if you’re keen.
Option 5: Make a mindful spending manifesto – I like this because it’s all about words, not spreadsheets. I really don’t enjoy looking at numbers on a page.
Instead, I think about where I want to be allocating my money. (There’s a whole post about it here).
Remember, priorities change over time. Last year I was spending a lot on fitness, including personal training. This year, I’ve got an annoying shoulder injury plus a reduced income, so I’ve dialled that down. Instead, I’m investing money in my business (including an accountant – FML).
I’m updating my priorities to keep my spending in line with my goals.
Honestly Fierce Girls, my friend Jess and I got so excited about this topic, we actually have another five activities to choose from. But I am going to give us all a month before I overwhelm you.
If you are on board with the One Thing Challenge, head on over to the socials to share your wins.
“Nobody in my family has ever bought shares. It’s all new to me. I’d like to be able to do it myself. Is there an ‘easy way’? Probably not.”
This is part of a message I got from an old friend recently. And I loved it!
I loved that she was taking an interest in investing. I loved that she was thinking about her future. I loved that she was stepping outside her comfort zone.
So … is there an easy way?
Yes and no.
The mechanics of it can be easy. Sign up to an online broker and make some trades.
A harder part is knowing what to buy (more on that below).
And the hardest part is feeling legit.
It’s a challenge, believing we have the right to be here, doing this thing that has always been done by “smarter/richer/more important” people – and mostly men.
But it’s time for you to join this world. And I’m here to give you your ticket.
I’ll admit: this post is kind long and involved. But hang in there.
For many people, investing is a whole new world. New language, new ideas, new ways to think. It takes a while to feel comfortable.
It’s like learning anything though. If you ask the average bloke about the merits of skin serums vs moisturisers, he will look at you blankly. That’s because society hasn’t told men that skincare is important, or socialised them to believe that the way their skin looks is crucial to their social success. So they haven’t learnt about it.
But just because it’s new, doesn’t mean it’s beyond your skill or knowledge.
Don’t worry, Fierce Girl is here to help!
I thought a lot about my friend’s question and figured that if you’ve ever gone shopping for a particular outfit, it’s a similar process. Say you need something to wear to a wedding.
Step 1. The Brief
There are a bunch of things to consider. The time of year; the accessories you have and the ones you need to buy; if your stilettos will sink into the grass; the dress code (does formal mean a long dress?); how fat/skinny you feel right now. The list goes on.
There are also the practicalities. How much can you afford to spend? How many weekends do you have to go shopping? How many weeks do you have up your sleeve to buy online, get it delivered and return the five dresses you hate?
It’s a lot of thinking. But we do it, because we are competent, empowered women.
And that’s the energy we need to bring to investing.
When you’re in planning mode, some factors to consider are:
Your goals – is the money for a general nest egg or ‘f*#k-off fund’; for a bigger purchase down the track (e.g. a home deposit); will it be part of your retirement savings? Being clear on that will help with the next point…
Your timeframe – are you likely to need this money in the next five years? If so, maybe just stick it in a high-interest savings account. Shares can be too ‘up and down’ for a shorter period. But for a longer period, you can possibly tolerate a little risk and volatility – i.e. you have longer to ride those ups and downs, and let them smooth out over time.
Your own mindset – financial advisers like to talk about ‘risk tolerance’. In one sense it’s determined by the timeframe – the more time on your side, the more risk you can handle. But there’s also your own personality. If the thought that your share portfolio could fall dramatically will keep you up at night, then it’s probably better to go with a more ‘conservative’ portfolio. Don’t sell yourself short on this – some risk is needed to make money. At the same time, don’t go against your gut if it’s going to make you unhappy.
Step 2. The Research
The wedding outfit can require some serious thought, especially if you’re likely to see your ex-boyfriend or some chick from high-school who was mean to you.
Research is the answer. You scroll Instagram, makes wishlists on The Iconic, and wander the shopping mall at lunch. You also flick through a few fashion magazines for ideas – haha just kidding, what is this, 1997?
At some point you decide that ‘formal’ can definitely include cocktail length dresses, because, well, there’s a perfect one on sale at Rodeo Show.
You can apply this solid skillset to researching your investment options.
The first question is whether you want a DIY approach or someone to pick things for you.
The DIY Approach – Direct Share Investing
You can pick a few companies to invest in, then buy their shares (technically, they are called equities, but let’s stick with the common name here). You do this directly through a real-life or online broker (discussed in this post).
Some challenges with this are:
you don’t know if you’re paying a fair price – unless you go deep into their financial statements and think about things like price-earnings ratios.
It’s harder to spread the risk. The more companies you invest in, the less it matters when one goes badly. ‘Diversification’ is a key investment concept, and it’s hard to achieve it unless you have a lot of money to plough into shares.
It can be more stressful – Related to the above point, owning just a handful of companies means you watch them more closely and get emotionally invested in their ups and downs.
Personally, I’m not a fan of direct investing. But some people are really attracted to it because they like the control it gives them, or they enjoy all the research and trading.
But if this doesn’t sound like you then, another option is a managed fund.
Pay someone else to be smart
Back when I got married, I would never have pulled my wedding dress off the rack when I was shopping for it. But the lady at Baccini & Hill has dressed a few brides in her time, and she knew exactly what would look good on me, because she’s a professional.
If you want your shares to be professionally managed, you have two main choices:
Active Management – someone (usually a team) does all the research, selects the companies to buy and then does the buying/selling at the appropriate time. You pay fees to the manager for doing all this work (usually a percentage of the amount invested). Picking a fund manager is a whole topic in itself, which I’ll save for another time.
Passive Investing – This is where your portfolio mimics the performance of the market, instead of someone picking the best shares for you. It means costs are much lower, but you don’t have a chance to ‘beat the market’ (i.e. make more than the average investor).
Passive investing – through Index Funds and Exchange Traded Funds (ETF) – has grown in popularity in recent years. It could be worth considering if:
You’re not fussed about beating the market and are happy to earn the average
You don’t like paying a lot in fees
You want to start with a small amount (like, a spare fifty bucks or so)
It’s not as DIY as direct investing, but it’s also not as hands-on (or costly) as active management.
The cheapest way to access this type of investment is through an ETF provider – such as Vanguard, iShares or BetaShares. If this appeals to you, I recommend reading ASIC’s explanation, so you understand what you’re getting into.
You can also invest in Index Funds through a manager like Vanguard – i.e. you put in an application directly with the manager, rather than buying on the exchange. The difference between these approaches is subtle – check out this article for more details.
If you are baffled by how many products are on offer, and which one is right for you, a roboadviser can help.
Companies like Stockspot, Six Park and Raiz put together a basket of ETFs for you, based on your needs and preferences. There is a fee, but it’s generally a lot lower than paying a human adviser.
Speaking of humans, don’t rule out getting an adviser if you are really serious. Just like a personal trainer can get you over the fear or walking into a sweaty weights room full of men, an adviser can guide you through the world of investing.
You’ll pay for the privilege, but if they give you the confidence to step into investing, you could potentially make that money back over time.
Step 3: Get cracking!
I know this is a lot of information, and I’m not recommending you jump online and buy, buy, buy right now!
Do some more reading (or watching videos) to get your head in the game.
However, don’t wait to be an expert. Perfect is the enemy of done.
You can get started with a small amount of money, find your comfort factor, and then build from there.
And remember, if you can go shopping for clothes, you can go shopping for shares.
Here are some more of my articles to help you get started:
The work break-ups. The relationship break-ups. The break-ups with a part of yourself – a bad habit, a way of being, a view of yourself.
The ones that hinge on a conversation, and they’re done straight away. No more. Just gone.
The ones that seem settled but drag on. Back again, back for a while, back against your better judgement. Until finally, it’s done.
The ones you saw coming but couldn’t avoid. You resisted, you tried, you struggled, but in the end you could no longer hide from the fact that it was over.
The ones that came out of the blue. You thought things were fine, and then all of a sudden it wasn’t. It was over, and you were blindsided.
The tangential ones. Where another break-up came with collateral damage, and you suddenly lost people you cared about. They disappear, alongside the network of family and friends that come with a relationship or a job.
I’ve had all these permutations in my life.
I used to be scared of them. I thought they signalled failure. I was scared of what comes next. Resistant to change.
But life gives you change whether you want it or not. You move states and change schools, your parents divorce, your best friend careens away into illness and addiction.
You try on different identities, change jobs, move countries, move states. You leave beloved bosses, you grapple with the pain of divorce, you emerge stronger and full of fire. Burnished by the flames.
And slowly, you realise that change has become a habit. You’ve learned to “love the sound of your feet walking away from things that aren’t meant for you”.
And this, my friends, is where I find myself.
Once again, I’ve tried on an outfit I thought I wanted. I bought it, took it home, wore it around.
But it doesn’t fit. I can’t do the corporate thing with the resolve and passion it needs. I wish I could, in some ways.
Ironically, for someone who writes a finance blog, I don’t care enough about money to give up things like creative freedom.
Alas, dear reader, I cannot. I make a very unconvincing corporate boss-lady.
My dad observed to me that I’ve never been interested in building an empire. ‘No’, I replied. ‘I want to build a revolution’.
And thus I find myself at a crossroads. My corporate career is asking too high a price. It demands that Fierce Girl stays small and quiet and anonymous.
Sometimes you need an ultimatum to find out what really matters. Asked to choose, I chose the risky path. For the first time in 20 years I’m walking away from a salary, a safety net and all that jazz. It’s kind of nuts.
But if not now, when?
I had a chance meeting in my apartment building recently, where a lovely woman was delivering things to her friend with Stage 4 brain cancer. Her friend is 43 years old and has just months left to live.
Now I don’t want to get all dramatic on you, but sometimes the universe offers up a sign, if you choose to make sense of it. And I ask again, if not now, when?
And so I look to Queen Beyonce for inspiration. “If I’m gonna bet on anyone, I’ll bet on myself”.
What’s next for Fierce Girl.
Without the shackles of a corporate contract, I’ll be back with my name and my face on the blog. (I did a photo shoot today!)
Gurrrrl, you’re gonna get sick of this face. I’m gonna be out here advocating for change, hustling for women’s empowerment, speaking truth to power, and giving you all the awesome content you need and deserve.
More ways to level up
A blog is a great start to help you change. But real change often comes in the depths of personal connections. So there’ll be more ways to learn and grow and invest. Podcasts, videos, webinars – whatever you like ladies!
And events – all the events. Seminars, and workshops that bring all this stuff to life.
More epic shit to help you step into your power
Education is only one part of the path to getting your shit together with money. The other piece is behavioural change, to help you make good decisions on the reg. Fierce Girl will be giving you tools to make good decisions, as well as the education that underpins it.
And don’t worry, there’ll still be a ton of free stuff. The blog will always be free. But some of you want more, Imma make you pay for it. A sista’s gotta make a living up in here!
I’m working on a new brand and website and it’s gonna be awesome.
So that’s the update today. Thanks for listening… And sharing and supporting. Let’s get cracking on the revolution.
So, you’ve made the decision. It’s time to put on your serious-lady-suit (Romy and Michelle style) and get busy with money.
Whether daunting, exciting – or both – you need to start somewhere.
And that’s where it can come undone. What do I choose? How do I choose? What should I ask?
All very good questions. I can’t promise I will answer all of them, but let me give you some starting points on your journey.
I want to invest in ETFs
Exchange-traded funds are a popular, low-cost way to invest in a range of asset classes, from shares to bonds. I’ve written more about them here.
If you’ve done your research and want to get started, first thing you need is a broker. As the ‘exchange-traded’ name suggests, ETFs trade on the Australian Securities Exchange. While the days of guys shouting at guys on chalkboards are over, brokers still need to do the trade for you. There are lots of well-known online ones like CommSec, but the nerds in the forums I hang out in reckon Selfwealth is the cheapest.
If you don’t want to go down that road, you can consider an app like Raiz or a Roboadviser (see below), and they do that part for you.
In terms of choosing which ETFs, you really need to spend some time with your friend Google.
I want to invest in a Managed Fund
Rather than buying or selling units on the ASX, like with an ETF, you apply for units in a managed fund, directly to the company. There is usually a form to fill in (online or paper), you give them money and they give you units in the fund.
There is also an ASX service called mFund, which allows you to bypass the old form-filling grind. It does require a broker or financial adviser though – so if you have neither of those, probably not worth the effort.
In terms of how to choose a managed fund, it’s kind of like saying ‘how do you choose a dress?’. Do your research, have a clear idea of what you want, keep a keen eye on prices (fees), and get recommendations from friends. There is a handy tool on the mFund site to get you started.
Money Coaching – this is the mani-pedi of the advice world. It helps you with goal-setting, budgeting, cashflow, saving, and everyday money goals. It’s more like a life coach, in that it’s not regulated by ASIC and they can’t legally tell you what to do with your savings – they mainly help you accumulate the money. Sometimes they have affiliated services to take you to the next stage.
I see a lot of people who think they want financial advice, but really want money coaching. It’s way cheaper because there isn’t a bunch of expensive compliance sitting behind it.
People like Vivian Goh are leading the charge in this area.
Robo Advice – Let’s call this the fractional laser treatment of advice: yay technology! These services use powerful algorithms to give you an investment plan. You tell them your goals, and the friendly robot builds a portfolio to achieve them. Stockspot and Six Park are two of the bigger players in Australia – they have lots of helpful articles on their websites, with more information.
Comprehensive Financial Advice– This is the full day spa treatment of advice with a price to match. It looks at your whole financial picture: goals, retirement planning, risk tolerance, tax issues etc. But it takes a lot of time and compliance on the adviser’s side, so you’re looking at upfront fees or $3000-4000 or more, with the option of ongoing service (and fees).
So, you want to merge multiple accounts, check your insurance, review your investment options or generally find out WTF is going on with your retirement savings (yeah girl!).
Call your main super fund. If you want to roll multiple accounts into one, the fund will do the heavy lifting for you. If it’s other questions, they are generally pretty helpful and can often provide ‘limited advice’ at no cost.
Don’t know which one you should pick? The big-name industry funds are pretty solid, but you can also check out this website for more information.
There is one thing that can change your financial path forever, and it’s not betting on the share market. It’s not entering the Gucci store. It’s not even buying a house.
It’s walking down the aisle.
When you get hitched to a partner, you’re hitching your wagon to their financial future. And even if you’re already married, please read on, because this is literally one of the most important posts I am ever going to write on here.
I know it’s easy for me to sound like the bitter divorcee who lost money in a divorce settlement. (I did, but I am less bitter about it these days).
That’s not what this post is about. I’m at the age (40) where marriages are starting to fall apart. I see it among friends, acquaintances and friends of friends. After all, the most common age for getting a divorce is 45.5 for men and 42.9 for women (ABS).
Like any long-term decision, marriage is a calculated risk. There is a 1 in 3 chance it will end in divorce. If someone offered you a raffle where 1 in 3 tickets offered a prize, you’d jump right in.
And yet, so many people get married without even considering the ‘what if?’. The suggestion of a pre-nup, or to not change your surname, is taken offensively.
We are socialised to believe that romantic love is the most important part of marriage. This is a relatively recent development (it took off with the rise of the Romantic novel in the 18th century).
For thousands of years, though, marriage was an economic and child-bearing union. (Well, more of a takeover than a union, because the man got to control all the woman’s wealth once it was done).
Our ancestors were generally more clear-eyed about the fact that marriage is about far more than love. And in the age of Instagram weddings, it’s easy to forget there’s a shitload more at stake than a perfect photo album.
Once you’re married, everything you earn and own belongs to you both. Louder for the people at the back!
This is fantastic when you’re sharing and building together. But if it falls apart, everything you have worked for can be pooled together and a line drawn down it. (And that line may not be in the middle.)
Not only that, you will likely have to start over in a practical sense. New life, new home, new furniture, new insurance, new kitchenware. The things I own today bear very little resemblance to what I owned five years ago.
There is another big complicating factor in all of this: children. If you bring kids into the picture, there’s a good chance you’ll take career breaks that mean you earn less, reduce your super and even stunt your career progression.
Sorry, I know this sounds terribly unromantic and depressing. But hey, we aren’t just here for the LOLs; we’re here for the learning too.
A little bit of planning goes a long way
So I want you to consider marriage (or even de facto living) in this way: there’s a high chance it will be great and last forever. But there’s also a chance that it won’t.
It’s like car accidents – you really hope you won’t have one, and mostly you don’t. But guess what, you have to insure that vehicle every year anyway.
So I want to position this concept as Independence Insurance (thanks to a friend came up with this phrase, you know who you are).
This is the kind of insurance you take out regardless of how happy your relationship is. Because you just never fucking know.
Bae might come in one day and say s/he’s leaving. Maybe you catch them cheating (hey, if Beyonce isn’t safe, who the fuck is). Or the red flags you ignored before, gradually become so big and red you can’t stay, without harming your mental health or your kids’.
The progression of every break up is different, but the one thing they all have in common is the sense that ‘it wasn’t meant to end like this’.
So what does Independence Insurance involve? Well, the good news is, you don’t have to buy it or renew it or find the paperwork for it every year. It’s more about keeping some things in your control.
Always have at least one bank account in your own name. Up to you how much you have in there. I think at least a couple of thousand is a good start. Not only can you buy surprise presents with it, you can also get the fuck out of dodge if you need to. Honestly, this is such a simple thing to do and if I could go back and change one thing about my marriage, it would be this.
Have a car in your own name. If you only have one car, you may have to battle this one out. But if you have two, have one in your name. In NSW you can’t have two owners on the registration (not sure about other states), which is bloody annoying. But if things turn bitter and your partner has their name on both cars, guess what, s/he can keep them both. Happened to someone I know. Her ex has their two cars sitting in the driveway and she can’t do anything about it until they go to court (some years hence).
Don’t stop investing in your career and earning power. I know, this one is a lot more work than opening a bank account. But think of the women you’ve seen struggle after divorce because they put their own career on the backburner, to raise kids. It’s true, childcare is eye-wateringly expensive, but you need to think about the cost of not working. Not in today’s salary terms, but in the many decades from now if you’ve fallen behind your peers. Or you’ve kept low-stress, flexible, low-paid part-time jobs and now find you’re stuck there.
As my friend said, she never again wants to wake up and feel like she’s trapped in a relationship because she can’t afford to leave.
Take an interest in the financial paperwork. If you’re the spouse who leaves this stuff to your partner, it might seem like they are doing you a favour. But it has a lot of risk too. When I was married, I was the only one who knew how to access our mortgage redraw. If I was a bitch (which I am obviously not, ok), I could have easily drained thousands of dollars out of it, spent it, and he would neither have known nor had any recourse. Paperwork and banking is the worst, but it’s also the key to staying in control, as it gives you full visibility of your position.
Ok let me stop now and apologise if I sound a little preachy. I just want us all to be the best version of ourselves, and that means being realistic even as we are hopeful. I have more on this topic, so stay tuned.
And let me tell you I very much believe in romantic love. Just not as it applies to me haha.
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:
Set a goal – fit into the very skimpy outfit I purchased for my party
Track everything – all food, every workout
Rely on habit – regular food prep becomes a non-negotiable activity
Applying this to money, I’ve realised I need to:
Set a goal – I’m going to pay an extra $20,000 off my mortgage in 2019
Track everything – yep, I have to manually enter it into the TrackMySpend app
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.
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!
If I ran a fitness blog, I’d have to wait til January 1 to share good intentions and resolutions with you. Luckily for me, this is a finance blog and I can do it now.
It also requires no activewear or bikini shots, which is a relief, because I have been hitting the red wine and winter comfort food a little too hard.
So, while I commit to no booze and lots of tuna salads for the foreseeable future, you could commit to a few good habits for FY18/19.
Change one bad money habit – It doesn’t have to be outrageously ambitious. You don’t have to makeover your entire financial life. It just needs to be specific and actionable.
For example, you want to control your spending better. My friend Cara gets paid monthly and has a bad habit of ‘making it rain’ the first week, like Drake giving money to poor people. Then she lives like a monk the week before payday.
If you have a similar issue, your goal is to set a weekly spending budget. Look at how much your normally spend (I know: a painful yet necessary step in and of itself. But get out your bank statements and come clean with yourself).
Decide what’s an appropriate ‘discretionary’ budget – lunches, nights out, new shoes, Priceline sales etc. This should be close to what you already spend, otherwise you’re not going to stick to it. Maybe trim a cool 10-20% off it, but don’t go for the diet equivalent of Optifast shakes when you’re used to 2000 calories a day. Now, take that figure and divide by 4. Simples!
Then it’s a matter of putting in place the mechanism for sticking to the weekly budget. Perhaps you get that much cash out, then you see how much is left. Perhaps you have a separate account with weekly auto-transfers of the set amount. Maybe you check your bank account every few days and see if you’re tracking.
Whatever works for you, find a way to put boundaries in place, and automate some of it.
All of this advice is clearly not rocket science. I’m no behavioural psychologist. It’s about intention, action and habit.
Decide what to change, think about a solution, then make it as easy as possible to keep up the habit.
Check out my homeboy James Clear if you want to know more about changing habits – he is the guru.
Other bad money habits you might want to overhaul:
Paying too much for convenience: unplanned and expensive groceries, too much Uber Eats, buying a full price dress for a wedding next week etc.
Wasting food: throwing out what’s in your fridge, not putting it away properly in the first place, forgetting to eat leftovers – you know the drill. Make a plan, use your freezer and buy some Tupperware FridgeSmarts
Dipping into savings for everyday money – you need to re-do your budget, set a mindful spending manifesto, and get an account with a different bank that’s harder to access
Sort your superannuation once and for all – I know, I go on about super and it’s everyone’s least favourite topic. But how about you spend an hour or so on it now, and have thousands more when you retire in a few decades?
I have a deep-dive post about it here, but in short, there are a few basic things that make all the difference:
Find your lost super – That crappy retail job you had for six months? You probably have a super fund for it. If you’ve had more than a couple of jobs there’s a good chance you have a tiny little super balance from it, sitting around in the ATO’s accounts, doing nothing. Get hold of it and put it to work! Some tips here.
Ask your super fund to roll your accounts into one – Your main super fund probably wants to do this lost super thing for you – they often have a rollover service to find your multiple accounts and sweep it into your main one. Let them do the hard work!
Check your insurance – We get given life insurance without asking – but that doesn’t mean it’s either the right amount or free! Check what you’re covered for, if it’s too much or not enough, and how much it costs. I have a really exciting post about this here (because, let’s face it, the only thing more exciting than super is super AND insurance!).
Review your investment option – Chances are, you’re in the same investment strategy as that 50-year-old bloke on the train wearing a too-tight shirt. Which isn’t ideal if you’re young. As a general rule, younger savers can tolerate more risk for higher returns (they have longer to smooth out the ups and downs). Most super funds will be able to give you advice on what’s right for you. Personally, I will be in high-growth until about the time I need to get botox.
Get a better deal on your boring bills – Once a year, it pays to go through all those dull fixed costs and see if you can cut them down. Are you in the right health fund? Who knows – do some Googling, or call one of those iSelect, ComparetheMarket type services.
Could you be getting a better deal on your phone? Probably, if you’re not already on a contract. They bring out better and cheaper plans all the time, so it’s worth shopping around. The tight-arse circles I hang out in online have been raving about Kogan.com.au – not an endorsement from me, but can’t hurt to look.
Same goes for your car insurance, power bills and any other painful ongoing cost. Spend a bit of time once a year, and reap the rewards.
Learn about basic investment and finance concepts – Obviously being on this site is a great start. If you’re relatively new here, this post is a good primer.
But if you’ve put off ‘understanding compound interest’ to another day, that day is today.
If you’ve ever thought ‘I’ll look into share investments at some point’, that point is now.
If you’ve pondered ‘how much will I need to retire on?’, then it’s time to do some research.
A great resource is the government-funded http://www.moneysmart.gov.au – it’s designed by financial literacy experts so that anyone can understand it. And it covers a huge range of topics.
And that’s it.
Gosh that was a lot of information for a wintry Sunday morning huh? But you only have to do one thing to make a difference.
And none of those things require diet, exercise or bikini body transformations. So how good is that?