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The Fierce Girl's Guide to Finance

Get your shit together with money

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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.

7 money resolutions you can keep in 2017

Let’s all enter the secret circle of realtalk. New year’s resolutions are BS. We are hungover from eating, drinking and spending too much; resolutions are a handy way to purge our guilt. I get that.  

So that title is misleading. It should be: Some vague intentions and principles you might consider adopting to improve your finances this year, which aren’t really very hard or onerous.

1. Write your mindful spending manifesto. This isn’t hard. You can do it with a glass of (moderately priced) wine in hand one quiet night. (Read more about mindful spending here)

Take a moment to consider what you want to spend your hard-earned cash on in 2017. It can be a list or a mission statement. Write it on a note on the fridge or put it in your phone.

Here, I’ll start. I want to allocate money to travel, delicious breakfasts, quality fresh food and ethical protein sources, investing for my future, charities, powerlifting and fitness.

I want to avoid spending money on: coffee I can make myself; fancy wine; overpriced drinks in bars; clothes I don’t need; nail salons that may or may not be supporting human trafficking; things I need to find storage for; any more bloody shoes.

This will be a balancing act. I cannot guarantee to avoid Wittner for an entire calendar year. However, I will try my best. And I will NEVER pay full price there. Speaking of…

2. Stop paying full price for things. You only need to walk around the sales right now to know that Aussie retailers are addicted to discounting. Consumers want to spend less (because wage growth has stalled and we are highly indebted). But shops want us to spend more, so they keep making it more enticing.

You can take advantage of this by being organised. Not like spreadsheet organised – just using a bit of forethought. Think about what you know you need to buy, in advance, and then wait til it’s cheaper.

For instance, you already know how many weddings you’ll attend this year – if you want a new dress for each one, start looking now and buy on sale. (Alternatively, don’t be such a princess and wear an old one).

If you get to the beginning of a new season and feel a deep need to update your wardrobe, do it now – at the end of summer – and save it for next summer. This week I pulled out a fresh new Victoria’s Secret bikini I bought in the US, in June. It cost me thirty bucks then, and I feel like a million dollars now.

In the supermarket, my step-mum says to buy things you need when they are on spesh, not when they run out. This is good advice, and it’s why she always has two of every expensive cleaning product (whereas I just shop at Aldi and buy the cheap stuff).

3. Learn something about money and investing. Obviously you’re already reading Fierce Girl. Go you!!! But you can do more. Read the Money section of the newspaper. Buy a book about investing. Read some blogs or websites (check out my Resources page).

Basically, put your big girl boots on and take and interest, so that you can control your financial future. Don’t tell me it’s boring or hard or not your thing. We all have to do hard and boring things – but not all of them give you the chance to do something cool at the end, like go on holiday in Paris – AMIRIGHT?

4. Sort our your super. It’s easy and fast and will make a big difference to your future. Start with these:

  1. Roll multiple accounts into one.
  2. Pick the right investment option for your age (it may not be the default one).
  3. Set up salary sacrifices to make extra payments.

All of those things will make a decent difference to your retirement 30-40 years from now.

Super compounds and grows over a loooong time, so the things you do early on make a difference later. Small pain now, big gain later. There is a whole post I wrote on this, but if that’s too hard to read you could just call your super fund and get things moving.

5. Break a bad money habit. Go on, pick one. The one I finally nailed in 2016 was to stop buying coffee every day. I literally spent years battling the siren song of frothy, milky, delicious flat whites. But for my health, wallet and size of my arse, I replaced it with black coffee in a plunger. And here’s what I can tell you: you get used to anything, and then, in the end, quite like it.

I know you have a bad habit. Maybe it’s online shopping in front of the TV. Maybe it’s buying clothes when you’re upset and stressed. Maybe it’s just buying far too much takeaway. Pick one thing, work out what the underlying driver is behind it, and devise a strategy to short-circuit it. I’m not a guru on behavioural change, but here’s a guy who is, and whom I love: James Clear – check him out and read his e-book.

6. Make friends with your bank. I just opened a new account with St George. I already have three, but this was a new one called ‘Spending’ (you can name them). It’s where I allocate day-to-day, guilt-free spending money to. It’s great! It just helps me to mentally compartmentalise money. And nothing goes in there till the boring stuff has been done (bills, rent, savings – ugh).

St George has also upgraded the mobile app so it does a whole bunch of new stuff that makes life easier, like splitting bills. You should look at your own bank and what it offers to help you track and manage spending – and save more. Remember, it’s in your bank’s interest that you save money with them (so they can lend it to others). Make the the most of it and play around with the mobile app.

7. Sort out your head. Ok, I just snuck this one in as a bonus. What I mean is that lots of negative behaviours with money are related to our mental health and happiness. Some people buy expensive things to prop up their self-esteem. Others avoid taking control of their money because it makes them feel dumb. Other people are just distracting themselves from the tedium or terror of the human condition. 

You know what I mean. Think about what might be holding you back mentally or emotionally. I have been reading The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck by Mark Manson. It’s gloriously full of expletives, but it’s also full of realtalk that makes you think hard about your life choices. I highly recommend it as a starting point.

Oh hey, before you go…

2017: Fiercer and more financey than ever

This year is going to be big for The Fierce Girl’s Guide to Finance. I’ll be making the site prettier and easier to navigate. I’ll be holding some in-person workshops. Maybe there will even be an e-book.

So can I ask you a favour? Please share the love. I’m trying to build a community – a movement even – of ladies who are getting their shit together with money. But it needs your support. Get your friends to subscribe and/or like the Facebook page. Share the posts you like on social media. Comment if you have questions or things to say or requests for topics. Feedback is good and it’s what builds a community.

So, let’s make this year fierce and fantastic and a little bit financey.

No go ahead and Slay Bitches!

8 easy ways to spend less, save more and be a total Fierce Girl

You know what makes me happy? Among my friends, being thrifty has become synonymous with being a ‘Fierce Girl’.

Bought that top half price? Fierce Girl.

Only bought drinks in happy hour? Fierce Girl.

Bought your Christmas earrings for $2 in the new year sales last year? Yep, me – being a Fierce Girl.

It’s fair to say I can be a massive tight-arse. I buy marked-down veggies that only have a few days left in them. I shop at Aldi and buy cleanskin wine from Dan Murphy. I buy my underwear from Best & Less – and only when the Bonds range is on sale.

(Although I am happy to spend on things that I believe are worthwhile  –  things I have considered, weighed up and decided I want to allocate my funds to).

This is all part of mindful spending (which you should totes check out here if you missed it). Because the fact is, every dollar you don’t spend, is a dollar you don’t have to earn.

Amazing right? That concept blew my mind when I heard it. Instead of busting your arse for a payrise, you could just stop donating hundreds of dollars to the baristas and bartenders of the city.

Anyway, it has become apparent to me that not everyone is good at being a tight-arse. So, with a little help from my friend Gigi (who is an accountant and tight-arse from way back), I give you a random selection of ways to be a Fierce Girl spender.

  1. Consider the total cost, not just the purchase price. Here’s an example: you see flights for a hundred bucks and decide it’s a bargain way to have a mini-break in another city. But have you added the cost of cabs to and from the airport? All the breakfasts and lunches and dinners? The accommodation? I’m not saying don’t go ahead, but don’t forget to factor in the whole cost when you make a plan.
  2. Make your sober self be frugal, so that drunk you can party. As Gigi says, ‘there is the primary cost of alcohol, and the secondary cost of all the shit you buy when you’re drunk’. So, start well. Catch public transport on the way to a night out, eat dinner at home, make yourself a starter cocktail at home (my fave is a martini because it only needs three ingredients, including the garnish!). My point is, you don’t need to have a total budget blow-out when you party – you can halve the damage with some planning.
  3. Plan your meals and only buy what you need. I know, this sounds dull and housewifey. But I promise, it will improve your life. You literally need half an hour to sit down and list your meals for the week, and the ingredients you need. Not only does this make you feel like a bad-arse grown-up in control of your life, it also means you try new things as you go through recipe booksfor ideas. Plus it makes you eat better, duh. Rich AND skinny, bitches!
  4. Go out for breakfast, not dinner. Dinners are a nice treat once in a while, but they charge you for wine, sides, breathing –  pretty much everything. Go out for brunch instead. Not only will you avoid $50 bottles of wine, you can get the most expensive thing on the menu and struggle to spend more than twenty bucks. If you really do love dinner out, create a mental list of BYO venues, because there is no shame in taking your own cleanskin!
  5. Think ahead with gifts. Buy stuff when you see it on sale and think ‘mum would like that’. Even if it’s months ahead – have a present box where you put things aside. Just don’t buy it and forget you bought it and then your niece grows out of it and you have to save it for her little sister. (Not that I have done that).
  6. Avoid boredom/emotion/reward shopping. I know, I might as well tell you to not eat carbs after midday. But you at least need to try this. Gigi and I were discussing this post on WhatsApp, and I just found a line from me: “boredom shopping is the last resort of the unhappily married”. I should know. But any emotional state can lead to buying shit you don’t need. And if you do buy it, keep the receipt and see if you still want it three days later. I guarantee you do not.
  7. It’s not a bargain if you don’t need it. God, I wish I could take back all the ridiculous coloured high-heels, all the crop tops for the nightclubbing I never do, all the homewares I have no room for… anyway, sales are a particular trap for the tight-arses among us. But time has taught me that if I didn’t already have it on a mental list, I don’t need it.
  8. Read catalogues. Seriously. Reated to the point above, if there is stuff you know you need, hunt around for it on sale. There are websites like Lasoo which have every sale catalogue online. And if you aren’t in a hurry for it, make a note of it and buy it when you come across it somewhere. And as with the example above, anyone who pays full price for Bonds is a sucker.

I could go on for a while but I feel like I have already come across like some weird spinster aunt who buys day-old bread (I had those aunts in real life. They died quite wealthy).

All I want to say here is you can do this. You can stop pissing money away and do better things with it. You can be a Fierce Girl.

Got any hot money-saving tips? Leave them in the comments.

The 4 best friends who will make you rich

A wise man once said “Get rich or die tryin’”. Ah yes, Fifty Cent. You fill us with ambition.

But how do you get rich? And what is ‘rich’ anyway?

I’m not talking about the richness of family, friends and emotional connections.

I’m talking cold, hard cash that makes you feel like you’re in a rap video wearing giant diamond necklaces*.  

However, most of us aren’t going to get rich by a) marrying a millionaire b) inheriting a fortune or c) inventing Post-it Notes**.

And so, I’m introducing your #squad. Actually, your #richsquad. Probably not as hot as Taytay’s girlsquad, because we don’t have Gigi Hadid.

But these girls will have your back – as long as you get to know them, respect the hell out of them and don’t sleep with their boyfriends.

Introducing: Earning, Spending, Saving & Investing

Earning is pretty hot but doesn’t always get noticed. Girls are socialised not to pay attention to her. We take lower-paid jobs in lower-paid sectors. We take time out to raise families. We ‘follow our passions’ and other bullshit.

We are told that Earning is more of a guy’s kind of girl.

But you need to take this chick seriously.

Always be maximising your earnings, and don’t apologise for it.  Don’t ignore the power of boosting your paypacket – whether by making the right career moves, asking for payrises or having a side hustle.

And pay attention to Earning when you have to make life decisions. Firstly, she’s hard to win back if you leave her alone too long – if you step down, cut your income or take time out of the workforce, it can be really hard to catch up.

I’m not saying you should let her control your whole life. I made a decision to work a 9-day fortnight, which cuts my income by 10%. Is it worth it? While I’m studying, yes. Am I conscious of the hit I’m taking? Yes, and I review it often.  

Spending is everyone’s favourite fun friend. She loves ordering shots and telling you to live a little.

But this friend is a little cray-cray; she needs to be handled with care. DO NOT let Spending take over your life or your credit card. She makes you feel good when you are out partying, but she leaves you with a hangover.

The key to a healthy relationship with Spending is to give her respect and pay attention to her. Define the boundaries of your relationship. Embrace mindful spending (read more here). Be clear on what you will and won’t do with this friend.

Because if you let Spending take over your life, you will never be rich. You will feel rich at the time you’re hanging out together. But over time, she can be a bad influence who holds you back from achieving your goals.

So if that bitch tells you that you need to drop hundreds of dollars eyelash extensions, shut her down and go hang out with your other, more sensible friend…

Saving. Your quiet but powerful friend. She isn’t as glamorous or as fun as Spending, but she really does have your back. She will help you reach your goals, be there for life’s unexpected dramas and generally be an awesome wingman.

She loves inviting your over to drink reasonably-priced wine, rather than go out to fancy bars. She makes you bring your own lunch to work, only ever buys stuff on sale and tells you to follow a budget.

But Saving is a true friend, and the more you get to know her, the more you’ll see her value. You see, she gives you choices and opportunities, and makes you feel far more in control of your life. Aaaand, she will introduce you to her smart and sassy friend…

Investing. This chick seems scary at first, because she’s so clever and uses a lot of big words. But don’t be put off – if you listen for a while, she makes sense.

And Investing is actually the one who makes you rich – or richer. She gives you money all the time. Like, for free! Just to say thanks for being friends.

Investing takes your money, multiplies it, and gives it back to you. That’s not something Spending can do. And while Saving does it a bit, she’s pretty tight – she buys you a coffee, whereas your glamorous friend Investing buys you an espresso martini.

So please don’t turn your back on this lady when she tries to befriend you. She can be hard to get to know. Ok, so she seems like a total know-it-all bitch at first.

But once you get past all the bullshit jargon, Investing is your true friend, and she’ll help you become more than you ever could on your own.

So that’s it. Your #richsquad. And you know what your #squadgoals are, right? Independence, freedom and choices. (Not flashy clothes and fancy cars. Well, maybe a few).

The thing is though, just like the Sex and the City girls, or the girls from Girls, or the Gilmore Girls, or the Spice Girls, or any other famous girl group, they function at their best when they are all together.

Cut Investing out, and you will just chug along,never really getting ahead. Give Spending too much booze and she will wreak havoc. Ignore Earning for too long, and she’ll start drifting from you. Drop Saving, and you’ll feel out of control of your life.

So, make friends with ALL of these lovely ladies, and you’ll be a Fierce Girl for life.

*(I’m thinking of the line from Ludacris’ Stand Up, where he says “Watch out for the medallions/My diamonds are reckless/Feels like a midget is hanging from my necklace”)

** That’s a Romy & Michelle reference, duh.

Bindi & Mindy tell you what’s up

A quick chat about why the ladeez get turned off money. We also discuss flight socks and giggle a lot.

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