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The Fierce Girl's Guide to Finance

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3 useful things to help you win the war on adulting

I’ve been adulting hard in 2019. I  finished a bathroom renovation and I got my car registered. Ok, maybe my dad took the car for a service and inspection, but I most definitely did the paperwork.

Anyway it got me thinking about what it means to be a fully functioning adult. Because even though I’m now 40 (wtf), I sometimes feel like a 21 year old, just trying to keep all that adulting, life-admin shit together. (Hence why my dad steps in now and then).

I don’t even have kids and I find it hard – so let me salute all the ladies out there who can deal with car rego and school permission slips (do they even have them anymore or is there some sort of app?). Anyway, I don’t know how you do it all.

But when it comes to money, I am doing ok. So I want to share with you a few things that every girl should have as a serious, responsible adult. This is not an exhaustive list, obviously, but it’s not a bad place to start.

1. A stash of emergency cash – An emergency is not a new outfit for a wedding that you forgot about. It’s your car breaking down and needing expensive repairs; it’s your hot water system exploding and needing immediate replacement; it’s getting out of a bad relationship that’s affecting your mental health.

The spectrum of reasons is wide, but the solution is the same: put at least a few thousand dollars aside with a different bank  –  so that you can’t see or easily access it in your everyday banking. Ideally, you want to have three months of living expenses in there. But if you can only manage a hundred or a thousand, do that and keep building a little at a time.

Some is better than none, so don’t let the ‘three month emergency fund’ rule keep you from getting on top of it.

2. A good banking or budgeting app – One thing I’ve learnt about money is that it’s a needy friend. Your bank account is totally NOT OK with sporadic texts and comments on her Insta posts.

She wants you to check in with her all the time, see how she’s feeling, has she been too busy, is she feeling sick, did someone absolutely flog her on the weekend at a bar around midnight. Ya know, the usual.

We really need to be frequently reviewing our spending, looking for cost overruns and also checking there are no suspicious transactions (cybercrime is real, y’all). Otherwise it becomes an avoidance thing of ‘God I don’t even want to look’. And a spiral of stress.

The next level of adulting to consider is a budgeting app that helps you set up buckets of money and lets you know if you’ve hit them. This is for the advanced level saver, and I know it’s not everyone’s gig. But something to consider.

When I feel like I’m getting a bit outta control, I track every dollar I spend (as per my new year resolution). I enter it into the TrackMySpend app, and it shows me where all my money goes. I like to enter it in manually  (as opposed to just reviewing my bank transactions), because it makes me think about each purchase.

In a cashless world, it’s easy to ignore exactly how much cash you’re dropping. So this is one way to create an additional mental barrier. (And yes, ‘Personal & Medical’ category, I see you and your outsize contribution. So what if I spent $400 at the naturopath? I haven’t even been to Priceline, so there).

3. A decent income protection policy

I know this is boring, but seriously, what happens if you can’t work because you’re really, seriously sick. Cancer, depression, an accident.

For a while there I was paying for this through my superannuation. Which is totally fine and if you do this, then great. I ended up getting a professional insurance review (for free, when I worked in a financial planning company). The outcome is a Rolls Royce policy that even pays my super if I can’t work. It’s very expensive, and I wince when I pay it every month.

HOWEVER, I am a single gal with no safety net other than my family, so I want the best. And then I hear about people like Kim, who beat breast cancer at 30 and had a double mastectomy; and is now battling cancer a decade later. Or the guy I met on the weekend (who is super cute and sweet, but that’s not relevant). He was in a car accident at 22 and spent four months in a coma before having to relearn pretty much everything in subsequent years, due to traumatic brain injury.

And I think damn, I guess I can afford it.

So, if you have an income, you should probably insure it. Talk to your super fund if you aren’t sure how to get started. (Also, note this is not the same as Life and TPD insurance that comes as a default; you need to add it yourself with most super funds).

Read more about the exciting topic of insurance here! We’re all going to die – so let’s just talk about it here, then move on

And that, my friends, is a completely randomly chosen list of things to help you win the war on adulting.

How much is enough? And other deep questions raised by Netflix

It seems like everyone is talking about Marie Kondo, the Japanese tidying-up queen. Her book even spawned a new verb: to KonMari.

Marie Kondo is now on Netflix, where she helps people who have become smothered by their own ‘stuff’, exhorting them to ponder each item and ask ‘Does this spark joy?’. (If it doesn’t, it’s out.)

I’m a fan of the concept.

When I left my marriage, I basically just took my clothes and shoes. Well, ok.  I also took the  Tupperware, the Le Creuset and my Mundial knife. A girl’s gotta cook.

I started again, and it was strangely liberating.

Yet how quickly we acquire more things. I’ve told myself no more kitchenware, but it’s hard. I recently gushed with envy over a friend’s omelette pan.

Which brings me to the a question I’ve been pondering for a while now: how do we know when we have enough?

Enough what, you ask?

Anything, really.

The big challenge of our modern lives and disposable incomes is simply saying no.

When you have money, there’s always more you can buy.

Maybe it’s one more cheap T-shirt. Maybe it’s another pair of designer heels. Maybe it’s one more eyeshadow palette, to get one particular colour.

Whatever your thing, you have the ability and opportunity to continuing indulging in it.

But there comes a point, hopefully before Marie Kondo has to step in, when it’s time to ask the question: is this enough?

It might be that you’re running out of space (or money).

Maybe you have so many Lorna Jane crop tops you struggle to rotate them efficiently (I hear that’s a thing, wouldn’t know myself).

Maybe your wife gets cranky at all the space your bikes are taking up in the garage (sorry dad).

Or maybe you just start feeling guilty about the impact you’re having on the earth.

I’ve been talking to people about this to get their view on this thorny topic.

I asked a girlfriend at work how many work outfits are enough. ‘Ten’, she replied. Two weeks of new outfits, then rotate again. ‘After all, a man normally has a couple of suits and ten shirts’.

The girls in the team nodded thoughtfully, then all agreed that was a preposterous notion. We could quite literally wear a new outfit for a month without duplicating it.

Which really gives you pause for thought. (And hopefully I have that pause, next time I’m in a changeroom.)

Pick your vices

My dad’s advice is to try and limit your number of vices to one. He has chosen bikes, and associated bike gear, as his vice. He claims to have culled to the very reasonable number of three. His wife remains unconvinced, but this is a woman with a chandelier in every room, so I’m not sure she’s blameless.

And if we all have our different vices, we also need to have things we’re happy to be a tight-arse about.

I have an obscene amount of fancy activewear, but use a Kmart handbag. My friend has an obscenely large collection of designer bags,  but buys cheap gymwear. We revel in judging each other about it.

It all comes back to mindful spending (more about that here). This is a concept that I have been spruiking for a while now. Amazingly, this week I spoke to someone who has adopted it!

She said it helps her when she’s having that moment in a store, for example, wondering whether she ‘needs’ a new top, or is just buying it for the sake of it.

But what I like about this approach is that it can actually give you freedom, not just constraints. Mindful spending helps you pinpoint those things that ‘spark joy’ and allocate resources that way. Guilt-free, by the way.

So there is no easy answer to ‘how much is enough?’, but there are definitely some road signs to help us on the journey to find out.

 

3 things I learnt in the Christian Louboutin store

It was the outcome of a conversation at work. Long story, but I decided I needed a pair of designer heels to signal to the world that I was serious. I wanted to prove (to myself, mostly) that I’m a successful, grown-up woman who can do all the serious career things.

And so, my friend who lives and breathes designer shopping, excitedly took me to Pitt Street the very next day.

I had some major ‘Julia Roberts on Rodeo Drive’ vibes to be honest. I pretended like I go into stores that sell thousand-dollar shoes all the time, but as you can guess, I have literally never been in one.

Anyway, I didn’t buy any. It was a little disappointing in the end – not for my wallet, which was totally supportive of my decision. Definitely for my friend.

But life is full of unexpected lessons, so here are some thoughts I had following the great Designer Shoe Store Trail of 2019.

  1. Price does not equal comfort. I had this idea that if you paid a lot of money, these heels would magically not hurt your feet. This is a lie! In fact, those Louboutins were red-soled harbingers of death to the balls of your feet. Also, my ‘plump’ feet didn’t really fit into them or any of the fancy brands, except Salvatore Ferragamo, which is made for well-heeled (pun intended) ladies of a certain age who brunch in Double Bay.
  2. It’s hard to rewrite your money script. I’m a massive tight-arse when it comes to clothes and shoes. Who was I kidding? Like yeah, I’ll shop at the usual suspects like Wittner and Nine West, but I ain’t paying full-price. So it’s hard – impossible even – to go from $100 for a pair of shoes to literally ten times that. And then I started thinking about all Nike Air Maxes I could get for that much (to add to the slightly obscene collection already going). Well, anyway, is it any surprise that I abandoned the whole plan? This isn’t a bad thing – it’s part of mindful spending to know what you’re willing to drop your hard-earned dollars on. Or not.
  3. Self-confidence is about what you think, not what you wear. Sorry if this sounds like a motivational quote from Instagram. Like, it’s still important to look polished and professional. But I was expecting that buying some shoes would convince me that I’m legit. Maybe banish some of my impostor syndrome feelings. It turns out the only way to do that is through some serious inner work. Ugh, so much harder than just going shopping. In fact, that’s how it always is. Buying stuff is never a replacement for self-development. Annoying!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nobody cares about your money as much as you do.

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

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

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

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

Only you can decide what’s important to you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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).

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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)

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