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The Fierce Girl's Guide to Finance

Get your shit together with money

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Just some stuff about money you need to know but probably weren’t taught

Disclaimer: literally no connection to Channing or Ryan – I just wanted you to read this.

I had a conversation at work today about a journalist failing to understand the difference between real estate ‘debt’ and ‘equity’ as asset classes.

And then realised that this is totally normal, and I’m just surrounded by nerds who get paid a lot to think about this stuff all the time.

Really, most financial education happens on the fly. We don’t sit down at school and get taught about the capital stack in the same way we get walked through trigonometry.

That is crazy! Like when was the last time you needed to work out the angle of an isosceles triangle? (My vague memory of what it’s for).

But I’ll bet, sure as shit, you’ve wondered if you can afford to save for a home or your retirement.

So today is a quick primer on some of the basic stuff that nobody ever took the time to publish in your Year 11 textbooks.

What’s Capital Growth and why should I care about it?

It’s when the value of an asset goes up over time, often without you having to do anything.

The most common place we see this is housing. You know how your folks bought a bungalow in the suburbs way back when, and paid like five bucks for it? Well, the fact that it could now fund a small developing nation is thanks to capital growth.

Similarly, some people who bought shares in Apple, back when they were making Macs for Where in the World is Carmen San Diego. Now, they have seen the value of those shares increase by about a bazillion. That’s capital growth.

How does this magic happen? Well, it’s complicated.

When you buy shares, you’re often hoping that a company will grow over time. Certain styles of investor will only buy these types of shares – betting on their future.

With property, it mainly boils down to population growth. You’re betting that over time, more people will want to come to the area you’ve bought in. Supply is under pressure, demand is up, and voila, somehow it costs a million bucks to live in a shitty two-bedroom cottage miles from the city.

This is how a lot of people make money in Australia.

But it’s also the reason people freak the hell out when property prices look flat – or even worse, decline. If you’ve bet the house (haha get it) on prices going up, it all looks a bit scary when that stops happening.

But wait, is capital growth the only way to make money?

Glad you asked! The answer is no. Sometimes you buy an asset for its yield (aka income). For example, Telstra shares have gone nowhere fast in terms of capital growth (pretty much since they were floated onto the market).

But they usually pay sweet dividends (i.e. a little thank you payment from the company), and thus are beloved by retiree investors, who need the income to live on. (Be annoyed with Telstra’s service as much as you like, but they likely funded your last birthday present from Grandma and Grandpa.)

In terms of investment property, you have tenants who pay the equivalent of dividends. If the value of the property is flat or declining, ideally you’ll still get income from rent to pay the mortgage and possibly have a bit left over.

Some investments don’t have any growth, but give you reliable income – like a term deposit. The advantage is low risk – you know how much you’ll get back at the end.

So, should I look for growth or income or what?

Well it depends on your goals and timeframe. If you have a long time horizon, like retirement saving, you’re looking for capital growth with a bit of income thrown in.

If you are living off your investments, you’ll be more focused on steady income, and would look at things like bonds or dividend stocks.

Big difference between those two things, however, is that one is predictable and one is not. Also known as ‘fixed income’, bonds are based on an agreement that the issuer will pay you – the bondholder – a certain amount of income.

With shares, dividends are not guaranteed. It’s like dating a total player (or in fact any guy I’ve dated in the last four years): they’ll promise you a lot but when the chips are down, they’ll disappoint you.

Kind of not their fault though: under corporate law, companies are only allowed to pay dividends if they have their shit together. (I feel like this should apply to men on the dating scene, but there is a sad lack of law in this regard).

zac efron shirtless
Also no reason for Zac Efron, but just wanted to reward you for reading this far

And hey, what’s the difference between debt and equity?

Here’s a quick primer as it relates to investments.

Equity is when you take an ownership stake in something. It might be your home or it might be a small chunk of a company, which you buy on the stock exchange (hence why the asset class is called Equities).

You become an owner, and that means taking on all the risks and rewards that come with it. Like this week when my apartment started leaking through the roof, I was reminded of the sheer tedium of home ownership.

With shares, if the company tanks or even goes out of business, shareholders cop a lot of the losses. In fact, if it goes bust, shareholders are last in line among creditors (i.e. all those people queued up trying to get their money back).

On the upside, if it goes gangbusters, you’re set to make a lot of money – hello Apple shares!

Debt is the more sensible friend of equity.

If you don’t want the volatility or hassles of ownership, you can lend money to companies instead.

Yep, you heard me, be your own bank baby!

That’s what bonds are: a loan to a government or company. You agree to give them $XX and they agree to pay XX percent interest (often monthly or quarterly). Usually it’s a fixed rate, but there are ones called ‘floating rate’ which move around. Maybe that’s TMI but there you go.

Bondholders are also at the front of the line if things go belly-up, but the downside is they won’t increase in value over time – much. (I could talk about yield curves here but that is 100% TMI).

So, this is an example of this truism: what you give up in sexiness you gain in comfort. Bonds are just like … Bonds! As in, the undies.

A pair of Bonds hipsters isn’t going to set any boudoir action alight, but goddamn it, they will save you from an all-day wedgie.

And for a retiree who won’t be earning an income from work, bonds can provide a predictable income without so much stress.

Wow, do I have to choose one of these things?

The key thing to remember is that a cluey investor doesn’t have to choose just one of these. Most diversified portfolios – like the one your super is probably invested in – have a bit of everything.

Like the joy of owning the perfect eyeshadow palette, a diverse portfolio gives you a little bit of everything. It also spreads the risk, so if one asset class tanks, you’re not totally exposed.

You can build your own portfolio with some careful selection or pay a fund manager to do it.

What if I am freaked out by this and want to do nothing?

It’s fine, no big deal. You’ll likely have some exposure to all this through your super (which I am sure you’re going hard on).

Most people in Australia will go through life with probably one big equity investment that relies on capital growth to make money: their home.

Maybe they’ll buy an investment property and hope for some more capital growth, plus a bit of income to service it.

About a third will give the share market a red hot go, picking stocks based on professional advice, their own research or maybe a tip from a random on Hot Copper (like Reddit but for investor nerds).

Some will make money and some will lose it, but overall they will be looking at a Total Return generated by combination of Yield and Capital Growth.

But basically, you can go out there and live your best life knowing all these things that nobody ever bothered to explain to you.

(Oh, and this is a long post and if you’ve read this far, go you! Brad says well done).

Image result for brad pitt shirtless

Do you need a financial planner – or just a bit of planning?

I got a message from a friend recently, asking me if I could recommend a financial planner.  This friend, let’s call her Gemma, is 27 years old, a few years out of uni and in PR – all of which suggested to me that she isn’t on the big bucks (yet!).

I said hey, why don’t you come over and have a planning session with me. If all you need is some goal setting, then the only cost is that you have to be a case study on the blog. If you need the real deal, then no worries.

She came over, we gossiped about everyone in PR, then we finally sat down with some coloured pens and blank paper (which I effing love!). What follows is of the bones of our conversation.

Let me preface it by saying I’m not a planner. All I am is a person who knows how to ask questions, provide life advice and use a smartphone calculator. The latter one, not even very competently.

But this is the kind of session many people never really do. I had a similar one over cake and coffee about 18 months ago with a mate from work. Sure, he is the head of a Wealth business, but really, he just helped me frame some goals and put some numbers around them. And it was massively useful – it led me to buying my current home … which I bloody love.

Question 1 – What are your goals?

Gemma had helpfully come prepared with these! One short-term goal was to ‘enjoy my lifestyle’, which sounds vague, but seemed to translate to ‘please don’t stop me buying a coffee every day’.

This is where mindful spending comes in. If you really, really love that coffee, and it’s the one thing standing between you and the despair of the working world, then cool. Build it in. Take some other cost out.

Other goals were to move overseas in a couple of years, and to buy a property in her mid-30s. So are these goals do-able? Let’s see.

Question 2. How much are you earning and spending? 

This wasn’t the most exacting process. Ideal world, you’d track every purchase for a month or two, and/or go through your bank statements. But we broke it down enough to get a sense of money in and money out.

This step is so damn critical, but people have a strong aversion to it. They seem scared to look their money dead in the eye, as if it will reach out and punch them.

But actually it’s the opposite most times. Stare that balance sheet down, and it will give you clarity and power.

We worked out that Gemma would have roughly $700 to spare every month, after expenses.

That surplus amount is where all the magic happens. Whether you want to save or invest, you need to play around with incomings and outgoings til you end up with an amount of money you can put to work.

If you are struggling to get to that point, you have two choices: earn more or spend less. So, get a second job, start a side hustle, sell some of your stuff etc. Or go through your spending and work out what you really need, and what you can live without.

Question 3 – How will you allocate your surplus? 

This is where it comes down to timing and priorities. Yeah, you probably can’t do everything you want.

So, what’s most important now, in a year, in five? If you’re looking at goals within those timeframes, putting it in the bank can be the best option, or maybe a low-risk investment  like an enhanced cash product.

That’s because anything less than five years means you don’t have time to ride out the ups and downs of markets.

If it’s longer than that, you can look at higher-risk things like shares and managed funds. This is where it can make sense to see a financial planner, because sifting your way through products is a bit of a mission.

For our friend Gemma, we decided to put most of it towards medium-term goals like going overseas (so, in the bank).

Question 4: How committed are you to your goals?

Then we looked at the viability of saving to buy a property seven years from now. While the idea of saving $100k (a pretty modest 20% deposit these days) sounds bloody hard, it’s not impossible.

The good thing about Gemma’s situation is that she’s at the start of her career. She is also whip-smart and ambitious AF. So even though she is on pretty crap money now, she is going to keep going up and up. The real trick for her is not to allow too much lifestyle inflation.

What if you avoid lifestyle inflation? Today on the left, future on the right. Stay real and you can do some real saving.

That means not spending more as you earn more. And goddamn that is haaaard.

I’ll confess. I earn pretty good money these days, and do a decent job of saving. I’m smashing my mortgage and stuff. But I have pitfalls. Like, I’m currently in a cycle of Shellac manicures (nothing but a dirty addict).

And it’s hard to talk myself out of the $35 spend when I have money in my account. So I am giving myself a few months of enjoyment. I swear I can give up whenever I want. But anyway, I feel your pain babes. If you have money, it’s natural to want to spend it on sugar hits like clothes and restaurants and make-up.

Anyway, you’re going to have lots of growing expenses if you’re in your 20s or 30s. You have so many decisions to make about what to splash out on. You can’t avoid them all. What you can do is stay mindful, set goals and check in on them regularly.

When we worked it out, Gemma can indeed save for a home if she keeps earning more, but doesn’t give into the temptation of pissing it away on fancy stuff. Too often, anyway.

Goal-setting is like going to the gym

It seems hard and sometimes scary beforehand. Gemma told me as much. It’s like you don’t want to hear bad news.

But just like the high you get walking out of a Spin class, it’s a fantastic feeling to have your goals all mapped in front of you.

So don’t be scared. Get your pens and pencils out babes, and get cracking on your future!

Hot tip: Check out this post for more on goal-setting, and a free worksheet I made for you!

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!

What I’ve learnt from a year of running a finance blog

Today is the first anniversary of The Fierce Girl’s Guide to Finance. Yay! I feel happy and proud about that.

It’s been fun, hasn’t it? If you’re new to Fierce Girl, thanks for coming here. If you’e a long-time follower, thanks for being on the ride.

This whole thing was born out of lunchtime session at work called ‘Get your shit together with money’, part of the now-defunct National MoneySmart Week (long story about why it was canned). Anyway, it was a bunch of passionate advocates for financial literacy trying to put it on the national agenda. I was the PR chick, working on it pro bono.

During MoneySmart Week, I ran a session telling people to roll over their super funds and explaining the wonders of compound interest. And guess what, they got really into it! Weird, I know.

Then my friend Mindy Gold dared me to start this site. She was originally my partner in crime, but selfishly went to live overseas. (With a decent pool of savings btw, because she’s a Fierce Girl.)

The Divorce Thing

The other element of this story is that I was going through a divorce. I’m amazed by how short that phrase is when you say it.

‘I got divorced’. It’s like ‘I got my hair done’.

In reality, it was a slow, painful unwinding and rebuilding.

From the day I decided to leave, until the day the financial settlement was agreed, three years went by. And that doesn’t include the time spent watching my marriage fall apart. I’d say the last five years of my life have been spent in the strange, murky land of relationship failure.

I don’t say this to elicit sympathy, but to provide context. I’ve learnt many things from the process, some of which I’ve written about here and here. But the mistakes I made about money during my relationship, and the important role it played in allowing me to leave, have fueled my passion for this issue.

Put simply:

If you don’t control your money, you don’t control your life.

This is why it breaks my heart to see women hand over control to a partner, or to the universe. The attitude of ‘oh, I’m so bad with money but, haha, aren’t I adorably helpless‘ is still far too common.

Nobody is perfect with money. We all make bad decisions from time to time. But we need to remember who’s in the driver’s seat.

Not your credit card, not The Iconic, not the hipster-bearded bartender, and most certainly not your significant other. You, and you alone. (And maybe me, a little bit, haha).

Getting the basics right is hard – and important

When you hang out in the finance industry, you think everyone cares about whether your fund has beat the benchmark. And if you don’t know what that means, don’t worry – you’re not alone.

Finance people live in a bubble of complexity, products and jargon. Most regular people don’t care about alpha (which is how much an investment outperforms the benchmark, if you’re wondering).

They want to know how to pay off their credit card debt. Or to spend less on groceries. Or to have more money left before payday.

While I love explaining economics and investments, the readership stats for those posts are relatively low. My most-viewed post of all time is … wait for it … about bank accounts.

Turns out, how to structure your banking is far more interesting than the ingredients of Gross Domestic Product.  But the people running the banks and investment companies of the world don’t understand this. It’s taken me a year to fully appreciate it.

And that’s why so many people switch off and fall asleep when it comes to finance companies selling them stuff.

Success flows where attention goes

That sounds a little Tony Robbins, I know. But what I mean is that, since I’ve been thinking about money and finances and budgets A LOT in the last year, I’ve become way better at all those things. When you focus on something, you get better at it. Who knew!

My budgets are less liable to blow-outs, I feel confident about meeting my financial goals, and I feel comfortable about spending money on something if I’ve mindfully allocated funds to it.

I feel more in control, more confident and more optimistic. And that’s the goal, right?

Plus, I guess I have to really practice what I preach. Don’t want the paparazzi snapping me in the Jimmy Choo store.

At some point, you just have to back yourself

For someone in PR, I have a weird aversion to promoting myself.

But I have to remember I’m on a mission: to help you all take control of your money, give yourself choices and live your best lives. And a mission needs an appropriate level of bad-arse bravery and hustle.

So , as I enter Year Two of the blog, I’m getting serious. Site redesign, e-book launch, PR blitz – the lot!

If you love what I do, please be an advocate. Share things you find useful. Send me your feedback. Sign up for emails. And tell me when you’ve had Fierce Girl wins!

We are all in this together, fighting, dollar by dollar, to own the world and everything it has to offer.

So, go forth and be Fierce! And remember…

Tight-arse, tree-hugger tips to save money and the planet

I mentioned to a friend how infrequently I use my air conditioning in summer and she asked, “Is that because you’re a tree-hugger?” (Said in a loving way).

I realised that was a big reason, but also, I am a cheapskate and hate paying power companies. So when I thought about it, I figured the tight-arse and tree-hugger elements were 50-50. Things I do to reduce my environmental footprint also save me money, and vice versa.

So,  I’m sharing some of my all-time favourite products here. Like Gwyneth Paltrow on The Goop, but cheaper and less vaginal steaming (although… read on).

Tupperware Ventsmart

Absolute number one in the war on waste is a set of Tupperware ventsmarts. You can pop your celery in here and it stays crisp for three weeks. Legit! Mushrooms don’t go slimy or wrinkly, but instead keep for a couple of weeks. Salad mix takes at least 10 days to descend into that weird slimy state that happens in two days in its bag.

Honestly, these things are your saviour when you have the best of intentions, but accidentally get Grill’d for dinner instead of making stirfry.

Image result for tupperware vent smarts

Now before you tell me these sets are expensive, let’s talk about investments. You drop $100 on a set of these and they last a lifetime. Literally, they have a lifetime warranty. And you will have made that money back in the first year, just on the amount of dead veggies you haven’t chucked out. Fruit and veg take a lot of energy to grow and transport, and then they take a fair bit of cash to buy.

So if you want to avoid wasting both, pick yourself up a set (or three, which I have. And I live alone).

If you can’t stand the thought of having a Tupperware party (your loss, cos they are the best fun ever), I can totally hook you up with an awesome Tupperware lady who will send some to you. I’d also pick up a silicone baking sheet while you’re there, and you’ll hardly ever need baking paper again.

Norwex Make-up Removal Cloths

I have railed against the use of disposable makeup wipes for a long time. So wasteful! Except if you’re really drunk, maaaybe. As an alternative I used the little baby face washers you buy in the baby section of K Mart or big W. They come in a pack of 9 so you just use it once or twice then wash it with your towels. Simples!

But I could never get around using cotton pads for all my eye makeup, which is pretty full-on most days. Until this little cloth changed my life! One cloth takes off your foundation and eye makeup with nothing but water. You don’t even need to buy cleanser.

Norwex is a company that makes a bunch of chemical free cleaning products, and they are da bomb, I promise. They have parties, in the vein of Tupperware, but you can also order directly from a consultant. You won’t be surprised to hear I have a Norwex lady, so I can hook you up there too.

I subsequently found out that Enjo has a similar makeup product that won some award – I have used it and it’s also very nice but I already have my Norwex, sorry Enjo.

Olive oil spray bottle

I am obsessed with roasting every veggie ever. If you haven’t roasted Brussels sprouts you haven’t lived. They are best done with olive oil spray, but those spray cans you buy at the supermarket last about three seconds before you have to bin them. Plus I am very suss about the quality of the oil in them.

So my dad bought me one of these from the fancy kitchen shop in Leura and it changed my life! (Don’t know the brand but it is similar to this one).

Image result for olive oil spray bottle

You pump it to build the pressure then spray it on. Not only can you use the good oil, you can infuse garlic or herbs or chili. Get yourself one of these and you’ll never be ripped off by those cans again.

Moon cups and Thinx underwear

One of my feminist principles is that women shouldn’t be shamed about our bodies and their natural functions. Which means I talk about periods. I actually take some small pleasure in annoying men about it, but that’s incidental.

Anyway, I wanted to get tampons and pads out of my lady garden. Not only are they hugely wasteful, they are full of chemicals. I now use a combo of a JuJu cup and these amazing period underwear that honestly look like normal undies.

Some women can use a cup on its own but for whatever reason, it doesn’t seal 100% for me. I won’t go into the detail of how it all works, because others have done this for you, but I will say this: you can stop paying for feminine hygiene products. Never again grudgingly hand over your hard earned money for the pain of having a period.

And if you’re squeamish about seeing or touching your own blood, I say get over it. We can never truly own our feminist power if we think that what our bodies make is shameful. Like, maybe you don’t have to sing the flow song, but you get the drift.



Make your own stock

Ok, this is less about saving money and more about not wasting stuff. But have you ever made your own stock? It’s the best! And now it’s actually trendy because it’s called bone broth and Sarah Wilson champions it. But it was cool when my grandma was around, so Mary White is actually the original hipster.

Next time you have a whole roast chicken (if you don’t, you’re missing out), save the carcass. Maybe freeze it and wait til you have two, depending on how much you want to make. Save veggie scraps or just throw an onion and a dying carrot or two in there (if you even have any after purchasing your Tupperware !). Add quite a lot of salt – at least a teaspoon – and herbs, even just the mangy old herb stalks.

If you want beef stock you can ask the butcher for soup bones – a marrow bone cut up smaller is good. I take a strange pleasure in watching the butcher cut them up on a band saw. Is that weird? Anyway if you get charged more than five bucks for them the butcher is ripping you off.

The process is the same as for chicken stock, although you may want to skim the fat off after it cools – it solidifies, so that’s easy. I chuck mine in a slow cooker but you can just simmer on the stove too, for a good few hours.

The worst bit is pulling the bones out at the end and straining it all (I always manage to spill some). It’s easier to strain it all into one bowl then divide into smaller containers for the freezer. Or even zip lock bags if you can deal with the plastic guilt.

The stock is great in soups and curries and also for generally feeling smug about life. Like, when people say they use stock cubes you can look at them with disdain, then talk about gut-healing bone broth.

So these are my hot tips. Shout out in the comments if you have any more!

photo credit: PeterThoeny Follow the stairs into spring via photopin (license)

The three numbers you need to care about

When they tack sport onto the end of the news bulletins, I have an uncanny ability to tune it out. Not on purpose – I just have zero interest in who sportsed harder than the other.

I’ll bet you do that with the business news too. You legit don’t care about the price of gold or Texas crude oil. You don’t care that the All Ords was down 4%.

I get it – even I only listen with half an ear. (Daily movements don’t mean much – it’s all about the trend lines.)

But there are some numbers in the world of economics that have a real impact on you and your life.

Keeping an eye on them not only makes you smarter, it helps you make better decisions.  So here is a list of numbers I watch and care about, even as someone who can barely use Excel. (Seriously, I can’t even do formulas – it’s like some sort of learning disability).

GDP Growth – This is a simple number with a huge amount of stuff sitting behind it. It’s kinda like saying ‘This is a smoky eye’ when actually this is 20 minutes, five make-up brushes, eyeliner, mascara and probably some swearing.

Gross Domestic Product Growth is a sign of how well the economy is doing: what business is up to; how productive people are (every time you check Facebook at work you are hurting the economy. JK! Well sort of); how technology is making things more efficient. You don’t need to know each thing, but you do need to know the effect.

When the economy is growing, things are pretty good. There are lots of jobs, people spend money, investments grow in value.

If the economy is going backwards, it’s called ‘negative growth’, (an oxymoron in my view, but a thing nonetheless). This is VERY BAD for jobs and general chill levels.

GDP growth is measured every quarter and if you have two consecutive quarters of negative growth, that is a RECESSION.

Now the weird thing (in a good way) about Australia is that we’ve now had over 100 consecutive quarters of positive growth. While all those Europeans and Americans had a post-GFC recession, we didn’t (see side note below).

But it hasn’t been amaaazing growth either, which is one reason why the Reserve Bank has cut interest rates so many times – to try and pump up the economy by making it cheap to borrow and invest.

Unfortunately, most of that borrowing and investing has been by consumers and not businesses. Hence the housing market has gone bananas, while business investment levels have fallen off a cliff (here are the stats if you’re interested).

The reasons behind that are complex, but I think it’s partly a risk-averse corporate culture, and partly because shareholders are demanding big dividends instead of putting profits back into the business.

Side Note Why politicians matter to the economy – if you aren’t interested skip to the next section.

Remember K Rudd sending everyone some free money in 2008 (the ‘stimulus’ program)? That was to avoid a recession. The idea is that if everyone keeps spending, the economy will keep growing.

Sounds simple right? And it is, if you believe my friend Keynes (he’s my friend in the way Beyonce is – we don’t actually hang out. Also, he died in 1946). Keynes says if consumers and business stop spending then the government needs to step in and spend instead. Or give consumers the cash to spend (hello K Rudd!).

The alternative approach is where the government cuts spending to the bone – called ‘austerity’ – and then hopes for the best. It’s been proven to be totally fucking useless and just sends countries into deep, long-term unemployment (see Greece, as an example).

But the weird thing about economic policy is that governments often do stuff that has never been proven to work, because it’s based on the ideology of the people in charge.

Like, tax cuts for business and rich people have never been proved to trickle down to the rest of the economy, but Malcolm Turnbull and Donald Trump fucking love them anyway because they love business and rich people. OK, end of side note.

Inflation – measured as the Consumer Price Index (CPI), this tells us how much prices have moved. They take a ‘basket’ of goods and services – food, clothes, school fees, petrol etc – and track how much people are paying for them.

Some prices go up – hello, glass of wine in a bar! (I paid $13 for one the other day. I nearly vomited). And other prices go down, like TVs and clothes from H&M.  When they are all added and averaged, it gives us the inflation rate – most recently 2.1%.

Why does this matter? Well every time things get more exy, the money you have in your hot little hand is worth less. So you don’t want inflation to be too high.

But if it doesn’t grow at all, it’s a sign that the economy isn’t healthy, so you don’t want it too low either.

Tricky huh?

The Reserve Bank has decided the ‘just right’ level of inflation is 2-3%, so this is the their ‘target inflation band’. If the rate falls below it, they might cut interest rates (see why this stuff matters!).

Or they might not, depending on what else is going on, like house prices going crazy.

TBH, the Reserve Bank has a pretty tough job. Their overall goal is to keep the economy humming. But it’s harder than doing a wedding seating plan. Like if you put that cousin with that friend, they will argue about Trump. And where do you put that lone friend who doesn’t know anybody? Should you put all the single peeps together, or is that telling them they are non-married losers who should be separated from society?

Well that’s how the RBA feels when they try and balance inflation with house prices, growth with avoiding a bubble, stimulus with fairness. And worst of all, they only have ONE TOOL for doing this: interest rates. Up, down or on hold.

And that’s why inflation matters – not just because it affects your spending power, but because it drives interest rates. If you have a mortgage, that matters.

And if you don’t, it still matters, because it affects a) the price of the property you might buy one day and b) the investors buying the property you rent.

Wages Growth – This is very closely related to unemployment, and right now, these two numbers are not good friends. They grew up as besties – doing the same stuff together. When unemployment was low, wages went up. That’s how they rolled.

But in the past few years, they’ve really started going separate ways. One of them likes raves and EDM, the other is into Indie bands at pubs. One of them is vegan and wears recycled fashion, the other is shopping at Forever 21 and gets eyelash extensions.

Don’t believe me? Check out this RBA graph – see where they diverge and also how damn low wages growth is now.

Image result for wages growth unemployment australia 2017

What’s changed is the amount of UNDER-employment – people who want to work more but can’t find the hours. They stay out of the headline unemployment rate but are still economically disadvantaged.

Which is a long way of saying that the economy is complicated, yo.

You should care about wages growth because it relates to your market price as an employee. On a national scale, it’s getting harder to march into your boss and ask for a payrise. So you need to make sure you stay relevant and in-demand, and that you’re acquiring new skills that increase your value. You may also need to be realistic about your payrise expectations (soz).

The Upshot

I know, that was a long and detailed foray into economics. And hardly any celebrities to break it up (well, we had K Rudd and Keynes, I guess).

But I want you to know that this stuff matters. It’s not just numbers on the news; it’s stuff that makes a genuine difference to our lives and should affect our voting decisions.

There are actually tons more cool figures I could have included in here, but hopefully this gives you a taste for that exciting world of ‘the national accounts’. Woot woot! Let’s party with Bey!

 

photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/hongatar/ 

Top 3 tight-arse meals for the week before payday

As a tight-arse from way back, I hate spending money on work lunches.

And as a weightlifter, meal prep and Tupperware containers are 80% of my life. So I can teach you a thing or two about high-protein, low-cost meals.

First of all, let me just recap the numbers on work lunches. Say you buy lunch twice a week and it costs you $12 each time. You work 48 weeks a year, so that’s $1152 a year on burritos and sushi. If you cut that down to once a week, not only does buying lunch become a fun treat, it will save you nearly SIX HUNDRED BUCKS! You could spend that on shoes or investments or savings – whatever.

But I know, you don’t have time to prep lunches because you have kids/drinking sessions/work events/Netflix commitments.

So here are my foolproof ways not to end up in the food court, being fleeced for a bento box … especially if you have too much month at the end of your money.

The Ultimate Pantry-Freezer Lunch: Tuna Special

I thought everyone knew about this, but apparently not. And not everyone knows about the special secret ingredient either. It’s pretty simple:

  • A tin of tuna (I use the 180g ones, because gainz)
  • Mixed frozen vegetables (Aldi – $1.79)
  • Rice (you can use the microwave packets but I think they are wasteful and exy, so I cook a couple of cups of brown, black and red rice on the weekend – lasts a week in the fridge)
  • Secret ingredients: sesame oil and soy sauce

You chuck a handful of the veg in a container (to defrost during the morning) then add your rice, a tiny splash of sesame oil (seriously, go easy on this stuff, it’s really strong – no more than 1/2 teaspoon), and a small slurp of soy sauce.

At lunch, heat in the microwave for a couple of minutes, add the tuna, heat another minute or so. This will cost you about $2 AND make you feel super healthy and virtuous!

Looks way special, huh?

The Ultimate Make-ahead Freezer Lunch: Mince & Veg Extravaganza

I eat this for breakfast every day, but some people think that’s weird. (Those people haven’t been doing squats before work, obvs.) But it’s a great lunchtime option especially if you want a hot meal. It’s based on:

  • Beef mince (I use 1kg but you could use 500g if you’re a pussy)
  • 1 Onion

Chop the onion and cook it on medium heat. Turn heat up to full and brown the mince. Now add a bunch of spices. I don’t measure anything, but if I did I guess I’d use about 1/2 teaspoon of each:

  • Ground cumin
  • Ground coriander
  • Sweet paprika
  • Smoked paprika

And whatever else I feel like. Cook them up with the mince for about 1 minute. Then throw in (for 1kg mince):

  • 1 tin whole tomatoes
  • 1 tin crushed/diced tomatoes
  • Quarter or half a jar of passata

Again, you can play with these quantities. Just depends on how thick or saucy you like it. You can also skip the passata and just add more tomatoes. It’s all very fluid.

Then you add in all the vegetables (especially old, dying ones) in your fridge.You can throw them in a food processor or chop them by hand. I like some combo of:

  • eggplant (diced)
  • carrots
  • zucchini
  • broccoli (srsly – just chop it into small pieces)
  • kale or spinach (I often use frozen portions – $1 a pack!)
  • brussel sprouts (sliced or pulsed in the food processor)
  • mushroom
  • capsicum
  • choko (if you have an aunty or nanna who grows it)

Throw in a good pinch of salt and pepper then simmer for at least half an hour – til everything is soft (the eggplant seems to take the longest). Cool it down a bit (don’t leave it out too long if you don’t like salmonella), put it in little containers and pop in the freezer.

I use the dedicated Tupperware freezer range, but the cheap stuff or even snap lock bags do the trick. Then when you tell yourself you have no food for lunch, grab these little lifesavers and let them defrost all morning. Simples!

Also good for late-night, I’ve-been-at-the-pub dinners.

The Ultimate Lazy Girl’s Low-Carb Frittata

I’m almost embarrassed to tell you about this one, it’s so easy and cheap. It’s our old friend the Frozen Mixed Vegetables and a packet of frozen spinach.

  • Defrost the veg (in the microwave if you have one, on the bench for an hour if you have allocated the microwave nook to protein powder, like me)
  • Whisk up some eggs. It depends how big your oven dish is. I have a loaf tin that takes 8 eggs to fill. Just play with what you have. If it’s not non-stick, try lining it with baking paper to avoid egg mess.
  • Now I add some egg whites from a carton. You buy them from the fridge at the supermarket but they are always in hard-to-find places, and I end up asking.
  • Add a sprinkle of chilli flakes if you like them, into the eggs.
  • Lay the veggies out nicely in the dish and pour over the eggs.
  • Baking time depends on how deep the dish is and how many eggs. My loaf tin takes an hour. A flan or pie dish would be about half that.

 

cheap meals Before…netflix … And after

 

This version gives me enough for a 4 days of eating. Just depends how hungry you are. Have a side salad with it and it feels more satisfying (I’m talking some baby spinach and cherry tomatoes – nothing fancy or hard).

And that’s it my friends! No more excuses for not taking your lunch to work. Also, you will be healthy and feel virtuous – and who can put a price on feeling smug?

photo credit: gborin Hang on little tomato via photopin (license)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But what does this all mean for me?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Is doing nothing worse than doing the wrong thing with money?

I want to confess something. I’m probably wrong.

Some view I hold, some article of faith, some strongly held opinion. It’s completely wrong.

Because you know what? We’re all wrong, some of the time. I was wrong about Trump being unelectable (me, and a bazillion other political junkies).

I was wrong about Beyonce being the only viable winner of Album of the Year at the Grammy’s. (Adele. Huh. Who knew).

And I have been wrong about the romantic suitability of more men than I care to remember (although some of them are burnt into my heart: from Doug the 15-year-old drop-out to Mr Darcy, the 40-something divorcé).

Nobody has all the answers – regardless of how much conviction they show when giving you those answers. (In fact, the more conviction the higher the chance they’re wrong).

This is really important to know when it comes to money, for two reasons:

1. You should run all advice through your own bullshit filter (mine included)

2. You don’t want to let fear stop you from acting

Let’s look at the first one. As a woman, you’re going to come across a bunch of people offering free advice about money. Your folks want you to buy property. Some bloke at work wants to mansplain why you should invest in shares. Some blogger wants to tell you to stop getting eyelash extensions  (oh, that’s me).

Some of it will sound legit. Some of it will make perfect sense. And some of it won’t sit well with you at all.

One of the best ways to increase the sensitivity of your BS filter is to find your own information. Read widely and get a feel for different viewpoints. And then …

Pay attention to the numbers

I work with a wide range of fund managers and they all have a different approach. Every time I sit down with them I totally believe that they have found the holy grail of investment theory. Most of them are indeed pretty good, but it’s their numbers that tell the real story. And those numbers show that some are definitely better than others.

Key take-out? Numbers don’t lie – always look at performance figures. And not just the last year, but the last three and five years – and longer if possible.

Someone can tell you that buying an apartment off the plan and renting it out is THE best way to make a solid investment. But it’s pretty easy to test that theory. Take the purchase price, and divide it by the rent it brings in. This is the rental yield, and it tells you a lot about the return on investment.

An apartment that costs $800K and is rented out at $500 per week, gives a gross yield of 3.25% (before costs such as maintenance and strata). Yield also doesn’t take into the cost of interest on the loan, so it’s a pretty blunt instrument to work out our return on investment.

The great unknown is how much capital growth it will get – i.e. how much the value will go up. Same deal with shares – you can broadly predict the yield on those (as dividends tend to be similar every year), but less so what the share price will do.

So like every decision in life, you have some things you know and some things you just hope for the best on. Everything we do is a calculated risk.

I bought a pair of navy suede ankle boots this week, and there is a risk that I might not get as much wear as I hope out of them. But I took a risk, because they are really cute and they were on sale and I have wanted blue boots for months.

(Side note, I broke my own promise not to go to Wittner. I have a problem).

Key take-out: you can and should run the numbers on an investment, but you also have to accept there is no perfect answer and no guaranteed outcome. You need to identify and manage the risk, through things such as diversification or building in a buffer. (Read this piece about risk if you are interested).

And this brings me to another point. When you are trying to run all these numbers, you may want some help. So, should you use a financial planner?

Probably. Like colouring your hair or getting a spray tan, you can do an ok job yourself, but you will probably get a better result with a professional.

It’s the same reason I pay a stupid amount of money to a powerlifting coach. Sure I could read a book on training, but that book isn’t going to stand in front of me and shout ‘knees out, chest up!’ when my form goes to shit.

So yeah, do the basics on your own. Learn some stuff, read a book or two, get your budget and savings sorted. But if you want to move up from messing around in the weights room to actually building some serious muscle, you need a coach. In this case, a money coach.

How do you find one? Well, asking other people is a good start. But if you don’t have any recommendations to go on, take a look at the FPA website.

But let me explain the industry a bit, so you know what to look out for.

Most planners will be attached to a bank, a big financial institution or something called a ‘Dealer Group’. It’s a complicated thing where they need to be part of an organisation that holds a license. The Licensee takes all the heat of the admin and compliance (there is a shit-ton of it in this industry). The people who work under this license are called Authorised Representatives.

So the person you deal with has some sort of network behind them, whether it’s a bank or a dealer group, and that institution may or may not want to sell you some of their products. What products? Managed funds, margin loans, life insurance, mortgages. Financial products.

Now, these may be right for you. Or there could be something better out there. If you get your make-up done at the Mac counter, they’re hardly going to point you over to the Estee Lauder counter are they? Well, actually there was this one time when the Estee Lauder girl at Nordstrom recommended the Smashbox mascara she was wearing (and it was awesome). So it’s all about finding someone with your best interests at heart, and won’t just push their products on you.

Luckily, there is a law that says they have to do this – i.e. act in the client’s best interests. So regardless of whether they have their own products, an adviser will generally recommend things from an Approved Product List – a list that their Dealer Group has checked out and made sure they are legit. It’s like going to Mecca Cosmetica or Sephora, where they just give you the best of the best regardless of brand.

Key take-out: Make sure you ask lots of questions about why they are recommending one product over another. Think about how long you spend choosing a foundation – and then maybe double it.

The important thing is that you do something. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking it’s all too hard, there’s too much to know, so you’d better not do anything. That’s how you miss out on building wealth, and instead just let your life run ahead of you and your goals.

So if you are a bit scared about getting started on the finance thing, here are some tips:

  1. Do some basic research. Google is your friend. Read Warren Buffet – he makes a lot of sense and is also one of the richest guys in the world.
  2. Speak to a few grown-up people you trust (and who have money) and get their input
  3. Ask around and find a professional you like and trust. You generally get a first session free, so if you don’t click, don’t go ahead. It’s like Tinder, but less awks.
  4. Use the process to think about your goals, priorities and plans. Then map your finances against these.
  5. Ask questions,  don’t be afraid to be annoying and demanding. If you can’t understand it or it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.

And of course, you can always cruise around the Fierce Girl blog and enjoy its truth-bombs.

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