The Fierce Girl's Guide to Finance

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

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

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

And financially speaking, that holds true.

But I think I missed something important: human emotion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh hey, homemade martini!

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

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




When should I pay other people to do stuff?

Sometimes, it pays to pay a professional.

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

Look at that salon-perfect hair!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The lazy girl’s guide to making money

One of the burdens of modern life is choice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is not an ideal plan. 

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

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

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

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

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

But she will end up with over $1.1 million!

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

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









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

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

So, the action points here:

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mindful spending – what it is and why it matters:

What’s holding you back from being Fierce:

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

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

Bad at saving money? Here’s why – and what to do about it

I got asked today ‘how do you have the discipline to diet?’.

Since I was eating a Bounty at that moment, I’m not sure why. (To be fair, it was a piece of someone else’s Bounty, so there are obviously no calories.)

My response was that it’s easier if you have a reason. In my case, it’s so I can compete in powerlifting in a lower weight class.

It’s the same with money. Another friend asked me, ‘What if you just can’t save?’. To which I answered the same thing: you need a reason.

AKA: a goal.

Goals, I know! So lame and hard and too much like adulting.

I’m not a massive goal-setter myself, but I have forced myself to create some clarity about where I’m going. So then I know how to get there.

Just before you get bored and switch off, let me offer you a gift. We’ll come back to it shortly.

Click here to download your printable A4 worksheet

Why do you need a worksheet?

So we can put the ‘plan’ into financial planning.

I know, a lot of people don’t trust financial planners. There are good and bad ones, just like any other profession. We’ve all had a hairdresser who takes ‘just a trim‘ and turns it into ‘radical hair makeover so you look like a lesbian biker‘. (Don’t get me wrong, I love lesbian bikers – I just don’t necessarily want their haircuts).

However, I’ve been having a conversation with a mate who’s a financial planner, and he messes with my head because he’s all about ‘plans’.

I would ask him ‘should I buy a property to live in or invest in’ and he was all like ‘well, what’s your plan?’.

I don’t know! I’m in my late 30s, divorced, childless. So far, all the ‘plans’ I made 10 years ago haven’t really turned out.

But that doesn’t mean I can get away without one. Without some goals, I don’t know where to put my money or how much to save.

And if you don’t know the destination, how will you know the how to get there?

Sometimes, choosing the destination is the hard bit

People often ask me about what to with their money. I can’t  tell them specifically (partly because I’m not licensed so it’s illegal). But I do ask them ‘what’s the goal’?.

Is it  saving enough for a property? Is it having enough to travel? Maybe it’s just being a bad-arse with a backpack and a round-the-world ticket (oh hey Betsy, how’s Iceland?).

Tactics are useless without a strategy. And a strategy is nothing without a goal.

If you’re  like me though, you find big life planning stuff daunting at best, terrifying at worst. But don’t worry, Fierce Girls, I got ya.

I came up with questions to help you create some clarity. And then I made a fucking worksheet! I know, I am crafty AF.

Doing the worksheet

Now, you can do this and not necessarily come up with a special number. You know, a savings goal or something. That’s a topic for another day.

But you will think critically about the factors that shape your decisions. So the questions in the worksheet are (and you can totally pick the timeframe that applies to you):

  • Where do you want to be __ years from now?
  • What things do you want to experience?
  • How will you spend your time? Who with?
  • What will you own?
  • What is a must-do or must-have?
  • What can you give up or cut back?
  • What is the ‘why’?

When I did this exercise, I came up with a general plan that I don’t want to be a full-time, salaried employee much past my mid-fifties. I want to write books and hold workshops and coach people and be generally useful. I also want to travel as much as possible.

So that means I have about 15 years to build wealth, take holidays, smash a mortgage and sock away superannuation. Scary huh?

It also means I can give up expensive cars, too many clothes, and general unnecessary ‘stuff’. When I am considering a purchase, my decision tree is something like ‘Could I better spend this money on my trip next year?’ or ‘Wouldn’t I be better to chuck this into my mortgage?’.

Of course I won’t be perfect. But I have a plan and sense of direction. And then everything else is easier from there. Try it yourself!

Next week: The Track Your Spend challenge: finding where your money goes and working out how to save more of it. Yep. I’m gonna make another worksheet. It will be amazing.


The secret to guilt-free spending

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

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

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

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

Banking – sooo boring. Or is it? 

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

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

The Banking Buckets

These are the key elements:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How much goes in each account?

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

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

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

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

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

I’ve been at the coalface recently.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are buying homes later and paying more for them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’re all going to die – so let’s just talk about it here, then move on

That’s quite the dramatic headline, I know. But unless you’re a vampire like R-Patts, it’s true.

And if I said ‘hey girls, come over here and chat about life insurance for a moment’, you’d be about as excited as I was to watch three types of football this weekend (thanks to my brother). But unlike football, I can’t even tempt you with muscular men in very tight shorts.

So I promise to make this short and simple. (If you want a long read on this exciting topic, here’s one I prepared earlier). We’ll have a quick chat and then you can get back to worrying about Prince Harry’s mental health.

Imagine if you couldn’t work anymore. For a few months, for a year or two, or even forever. How the hell would you pay the bills? Your partner would? Ok, sure. What if he left though? What if he died? I know, I am a bundle of fun today.

Seriously though, if you got sick, or were injured in a car accident, do you think you future financial needs would be covered by social security? Maybe, but let me just say the disability support pension is about $400 a week. WTF? I legit pay more in rent than that. I would be in minus figures before I even had a crack at feeding or clothing myself.

So that’s why God (well, actually insurance companies) invented Salary Protection insurance (aka income protection). It pays you 75% of your current salary if you can’t work because of illness or injury. For example, I know a lovely lady who was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 30 and couldn’t work for six months. She didn’t have that insurance so had to rely on her family for support.

What if you’re in a car accident and end up in hospital and rehab for months on end? You may get some sort of compensation (or not) but that often doesn’t get paid till months or even years down the track. Good salary protection will kick in after a month off work and help to pay your ongoing living costs. Some policies cover you for up to two years; others until you’re 65. Obvs the latter one costs more, but could be worth it. (It’s what I have).

A good friend of Salary Protection is Trauma cover. This is a lump sum that you can get paid if you have some sort of accident or serious illness.  Think about how effing expensive it is to get even a bit sick these days – things like cancer or heart surgery are far more exy. Medicare and private health won’t cover all the costs of specialists, scans and tests. The bills don’t stop coming even if you’re off work. And perhaps you want to fly in family to be by your side.

Trauma protection gives you a pot of money to cover all the costs you face in a crisis, and gives you one less thing to worry about at an otherwise crazy stressful time. 

Total & Permanent Disability – This is one of the policies that often comes with your super fund – not for free, but the premiums come straight out of your savings, so you don’t really notice it. It’s a lump sum you can get if you really can’t work anymore. It’s not always easy to claim (given that it has to be TOTAL and PERMANENT) and can take a while to process even if you do, so trauma and salary protection can be useful to have alongside it.

Life insurance – this is really DEATH insurance but it’s not polite to talk about death, so it gets a turned into a lovely euphemism. Obviously it’s a payout to your partner/kids/family if you die. Also available in your super fund, but chances are you don’t know how much you’re covered for or how much it costs. Defo worth looking into and checking that.

Most people underestimate how much they need, because they don’t realise how many years it has to last for and how expensive life is. Even if you’re not the breadwinner, would your partner be able to pay for childcare while they work full-time? There are plenty of things like this to consider.

How to take action

At the very least, look at your last super statement and see what cover you have. Can’t find it? Jump online or call your fund – they can tell you. Think about whether you’d have enough to pay off your debts, and leave the people you love with enough to make them comfortable.

Ideally, you would talk to a financial adviser or insurance broker. (Click here for more about finding an adviser). They not only help you work out what you need, but they do all the shitty dealings with the insurance company – now, and in the event of a claim. It may not even cost you much, because they may be paid by the insurance companies. (Depends on who you deal with and how their business is set up).

But seriously, you are gonna die. And if you do get sick or hurt, the last thing you want to deal with – on top of that – is being broke. You insure your car, your home – maybe even your pets – so please, please insure yourself and your income.


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