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The Fierce Girl's Guide to Finance

Get your shit together with money

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This is legit the only thing you need to read about the Royal Commission

And it’s not even that long!

I want to say a few things about the shit that went down with the Hayne Royal Commission into banking and financial services. The final report was released on Monday,

I know, it’s the last thing you want to think or read about. But go with me for a quick moment.

But first of all, can we take a moment to appreciate the awesome awkwardness of the photo call.

The fact that Hayne gives zero fucks about hiding his disaste for the whole thing is just glorious.

Ok, now I want to get to the real point. There were 76 recommendations that came out of the final report. I’m not gonna lie, I haven’t read most of them. I usually nerd out on this stuff but it’s been a busy week.

What I have done is read a shitload of commentary on it. And I came here to say this: don’t trust anyone with your money.

I’m not saying bury it in the backyard.

I am saying that a recurring theme was people having no bullshit filter.

The hearings were full of stories of people given poor advice by dodgy bankers and advisers, who didn’t see it for what it was.

Like, people close to retirement were given supersize home loans for risky property purchases. Or parents went guarantor for their kids’ businesses and didn’t realise their own home was on the line. Awful stuff, where people lost their homes, marriages and families.

There will always be fraudsters and dodgy dealers. But much of the poor behaviour recounted in the Commission wasn’t technically illegal. It was just risky business.

People who couldn’t afford to take on risk were told to do so. And because they trusted ‘professionals’, they just went along with it.

So what can you do? Educate yourself.

Take it from Elle, education is the best revenge

Sorry, no silver bullet.

To become a truly fierce girl, you need to take some responsibility for, and interest in, your finances. Read books and blogs. Talk to smart people. Pick up the business section of the paper now and then.

If you’re making a big decision about your money, go in with a serious amount of your own research. Line  up any advice or recommendations against your gut instincts. If it doesn’t sit well with you, think twice about it. And never feel afraid to ask ‘dumb’ or ‘rude’ questions.

The fact is, the Commission didn’t recommend fundamental changes to the sector. And greedy/unethical/incompetent people will continue to litter the finance industry the same way they do every industry. (You probably work with some yourself). As a result, you have to be on your game.

Sounds harsh, but the best defense against getting ripped off is to be a bossy, know-it-all, difficult-question-asking bitch.

Which is great, because that’s totally my style!

 

 

Four things rich people do … that you can too

There’s a section in my favourite gossip mag, ‘Celebs – they’re just like us’, where photos like Reese Witherspoon hauling groceries to her car make us feel good – as though there’s not much separating our humble lives from theirs.

Well, I’d like to propose a column called ‘Rich people – they’re just like us. Except not really’.

My career has thrown me in the path of many rich people (who, curiously, don’t call themselves rich most of the time).

They are like us in that they struggle with personal relationships, self-esteem and whether to eat dessert or avoid the calories.

But they are unlike us when it comes to money. I’ve noticed a few things that they have in common with each other, and it might help you too.

Like another favourite section of the gossip mags, here’s my version of ‘Rich People: steal their style’.

1. They spend money to make money

Wealthy people have wealth managers. It might be a financial adviser or private banker (probably both). They have an accountant to minimise their tax, a lawyer to set up trusts, and then they pay fund managers to invest their money. And they’ll pay a lot for these services, if they see value.

The reason for having a coterie of advisers is that each one has specialist skills to maximise return and minimise risk.

Key take-out for you? Don’t be afraid to invest in professional advice. A good financial adviser could make a difference of tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars over your life.

A good accountant will make your tax and investments work harder for you (and likely give you a way better tax return).

Even a good career or business coach can make a difference to your earning potential and success. (Mine pushes me to be tougher than I naturally am)

2. They don’t avoid risk, they manage it

I get it: you work hard for your cash so you don’t want to risk it in investments you don’t understand. But shoving your cash in the bank will not build your wealth these days.

Most bank deposit rates barely keep ahead of inflation. For example, inflation is running at around 2%, you’re getting 3% interest, so in fact you’ve only made 1% on your money.

The key is to understand risk management. Diversification is key to that – having your eggs in a few baskets. Another is paying attention to the fine print, so you are only taking risks you understand.

Related to the first point above, good advisers will help you manage risk according to your timeframe and goals. And I’ve written a whole post about risk here – check it out!

The other thing rich people do is insure the hell out of everything. There’s a place called Lloyd’s of London that’s been around since the 1700s, where you can go and get insurance for anything from a giant container ship through to J-Lo’s butt (true story).

It’s a global institution, because insurance has been at the heart of the economy since men were wearing wigs in an un-ironic way.

Insurance is a crucial part of risk management, so if you haven’t seriously looked at your income protection and life insurance, now is the time. (Oh wait, here’s a handy guide I wrote!).

3. They are masters of debt, not slaves

There’s a concept called ‘productive debt’ (aka ‘good debt’), and it’s worth understanding. It’s the debt you take on in order to invest and make more money.

A home loan is the most common form of this debt. But there are also investment loans, such as a margin loan to buy shares. Business loans are also in this class – borrowing to build and grow a business is a big driver of our economy.

‘Unproductive’ or ‘bad’ debt is borrowing money to buy something that just costs you money – a car loan for example. The car you have at the end of the loan will be worth less than you paid for it. Credit cards generally fall into this category too.

I know, you may feel like the investment you made in an Urban Decay Nude II palette at Sephora is productive and will improve your life. But unless you’re an Instagram sensation, or land a millionaire husband who was lured by your perfect eyeshadow contouring, you will not make money out of it.

Good debt still has to be carefully managed, as there are risks associated with borrowing. For example, if the value of the asset you bought goes down, it can create issues. But when used well, leverage (as debt is also known) can magnify your gains.

I’m not saying all rich people use debt to build wealth.  I’m saying that many of them use debt strategically and with a goal in mind … not just because they can’t manage their cashflow in between paydays.

You can learn from these people by thinking about debt as a tool, not as a fallback for bad money habits.

4. They pay attention to their finances

One thing you learn in consulting is this: big clients paying $20K a month have zero shame in questioning a $25 taxi fare you’ve added to their invoice. The same goes for rich people. Just because they’re rich doesn’t mean they’re careless with money.

In fact, they are generally the opposite. They won’t begrudge spending $20 on a cocktail, but they will check their bill in a restaurant. They won’t mind spending thousands to pay an investment manager, but they will expect strong returns.

And they will ask questions. Lots and lots of questions. The more money they are going to hand over, the more questions they’ll ask.

You should do the same. Whether it’s a phone bill, a bank statement, a payslip or an investment statement, pay attention to the details. People and companies frequently get things wrong. Some will deliberately rip you off.  Get ahead of them.

And more broadly, take just as much interest in your finances as you do in the ASOS sale email or the finer points of make-up contouring.

Ultimately, nobody will ever care about your money as much as you, so you’re in the driver’s seat.

 

When are you gonna get serious about your money?

How about now?

Let me tell you a story. Maybe it will inspire you/get you off your arse.

Sonia and Todd are everyday people with everyday jobs and a house in the suburbs. Sonia works in a finance company, so it made sense to get financial advice there when they bought a house four years ago.

An adviser hooked them up with a mortgage and an investment strategy. And since then, they haven’t really thought much about it.

Until a few weeks ago, when Todd was at a loose end on a work trip and bought The Barefoot Investor book*. Suddenly, he got interested in his finances (yay!).

He started looking at his home loan interest rate and the investment loan he’d acquired.

But it din’t make a lot of sense. So they invited me over for a second opinion, and over a few beers and some Trivial Pursuit, we started untangling their finances.

It was kinda hard, because until now, they haven’t paid attention to paperwork or statements. But we cracked on.

Home loan haggling

The low-hanging fruit was the mortgage: they were paying an eye-wateringly high rate, so I suggested that Sonia to call up and ask for a better one (a thing that you can totally do). Turns out they were in the wrong product – an investor loan, instead of owner-occupier.

Four years ago, that wouldn’t be a big difference, but investor loan rates have gone up since then (long story – search ‘macroprudential policy’ if you care). Now, they are paying far too much.

So, the lender helpfully put them into the right product and their rate became waaay more competitive. That’s a potential saving of tens of thousands over the life of the loan.

Why were they in the wrong loan originally, who is to blame, and can they get those extra interest payments back? We’re still working that out.

Borrowing to invest

Then we came to the investment portfolio. They have a sizeable ‘line of credit’ investment loan that funds a managed portfolio, mostly of shares.

Kind of like doing a smoky eye, borrowing to invest is neither good nor bad as a concept – it’s all about the execution. The line between ‘hooker after a big night’ and ‘sultry sex kitten’ is very fine.

Borrowing to buy shares increases your gains (if you have them) but it also increases your losses if the market goes down.

At the end of the day, Sonia and Todd are in an investment they don’t really understand, and one that cranks up their financial risk.

Your best ‘listening face’

That’s not to say the strategy wasn’t explained by the adviser at some point, but here’s the thing about ‘experts’. We often listen to them with an interested look on our face, but only half an ear open.

Whether it’s a physiotherapist explaining the intricacies of lumbar discs, or an adviser explaining leveraged investments, we nod and smile along, while being bamboozled on the inside.

It makes vague sense at the time, but when we get home we don’t really know how to do those stretches properly, or why we have thousands of dollars in a loan.

What’s the solution?

I’m not a professional adviser, so I wasn’t going to say ‘do this’ or ‘don’t do that’. But I did ask Todd and Sonia about their goals and priorities are and what they feel comfortable with.

It was clear they were not comfortable with a leveraged portfolio, and they  wanted to pay off their mortgage as a priority. They also had some expensive credit cards they could ditch immediately.

My take on their investment strategy is that they are Holden customers who have been sold a Mercedes. And they are paying a couple of thousand a year to an adviser, plus investment fees, for the privilege.

So, Sonia called a meeting with their adviser. I suggested some questions they could ask, and they had a positive and constructive conversation.

Over time (to minimise capital gains tax), they will sell down the shares to reduce the investment loan. They might add extra to their super (a cheap and cheerful way to lower your tax) and increase what they pay on the home loan.

Todd is also changing their bank accounts in line with The Barefoot Investor’s advice (similar to my suggestion here).

How to take charge

I don’t think Todd and Sonia had bad advice (except for that wrong home loan business). I just think they were given advice by someone who doesn’t know them well. And they didn’t feel smart enough to question it.

But they are smart. And capable. And pretty decent with everyday budgeting.  They just need to know that.

And I am telling you that you are too. Don’t let men in suits bamboozle you with their suit-tastic jargon.

You might have a simpler set-up than my friends. But the same rule applies: take an interest and you’ll get a better outcome.

Don’t be scared to ask questions – especially “why?” and “how much”. Why this home loan and not that one? Why this super fund?  How much am I paying in fees? What’s the long-term cost?

Another hot tip: read your paperwork. Every six months your super fund has to send you a statement. Open it. Read it. Compare it to other funds (some help here). And if you don’t get those statements, contact the fund and update your details.

Same with your home loan, personal loan or credit card – check out the interest rate. See if you can get a better one. Call them up. Put pressure on. In the case of home loans, the lender’s worst outcome is that you go elsewhere – so they will often bend over backwards to keep you. If you used a mortgage broker, get them to do it for you.

When’s the right time to do this stuff? 

Well, obviously … NOW.

Not sure where to start? Ask people (smart ones that you trust). Read The Barefoot Investor. Read the Money section of the newspaper. Google stuff. Visit http://www.moneysmart.gov.au

The knowledge is out there, you just need to get started.

*A lot of people ask me about this book. I haven’t read it all, but in general I like Scott Pape’s way of thinking and I am impressed at his ability to get people fired up about money. So yeah, go ahead and read it.

Maybe your grandma was right (about money, as well as that boy you were dating)

My late step-grandma* had a saying about choosing a partner: ‘Never stoop to pick up nothing’.

This post is not about that – I just wanted to share it because it’s great, and to prove that Grandmas know their shit.

My Grandma used to have five empty Vegemite jars, which she’d put her stray pennies into. There were different jars for different purposes.

“And if you keep doing that, soon you have a shilling, and then you have 21 shillings, which means you have a guinea to spend”.

(OK, I had to Google how  many shillings in a pound, but I did know that guineas are more exciting than a boring old pound).

This old-fashioned idea actually underpins a fancy new concept: microsaving apps like Acorns. I’m a huge fan of this app, which scrapes small amounts off your bank account – called ’round-ups’ – and invests them for you.

Say you spend $3.50 on a coffee, it garnishes the 50 cents (to round up to $4), and pops it into a portfolio of Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) – click here if you want to know more about them.

I like this because it’s painless saving. Of course I have other savings. But my Acorns is a bonus stash that I actually forget about most of the time.

Words from the wise

My friend Cara has an Irish Granny who tells her to ‘save your pennies and the pounds look after themselves’. So true! Even if we don’t actually have pennies or pounds.

On one hand, little bits of good work all add up, in those real or virtual Vegemite jars.

On the other hand, it’s all the small purchases here and there that drain your finances.

In fact, I just went through an exercise proving this. My work is about to launch a budgeting tool which links to your bank accounts and categorises all the transactions (from the last 6 months!) into ‘essentials’ and ‘discretionary’.

But it can only do about 70% of them automatically, meaning I had to go through and label a bunch of transactions myself. Soooo many transactions in the ‘Bars, Cafes and Restaurants’. Soooo many in ‘Clothes and Accessories’.

Sobering but not too surprising. After all, my mindful spending manifesto says I can spend money on going out to brunch, dinner or drinks with friends. It says very little about buying clothes though, so I am going a bit too far with that.

Even though I’m still within my ‘spend and splurge’ limit, the process showed me that I should probably shave that allocation down a little.

Considering I just bought an apartment this week, after three years of post-divorce renting, I think that’s a useful and timely lesson.

So my hot tip is this: track what you spend. Even if it’s just for a month, you’ll quickly see where your money goes, and whether it’s in line with your goals or priorities.

I like the trackmyspend app from MoneySmart, but there are others in the app store. Or go old school with a notebook.

Other great tips from my Grandma and her generation:

A stitch in time saves nine – Looking after things properly means they last much longer. I notice this the most with shoes. If you spend the time and effort wearing in a  great pair of shoes, get them resoled and reheeled before they fall apart. I have some beautiful boots cracking the ten year mark now, thanks to some love and care from Mr Minit in Martin Place.

A penny saved is a penny earned – This is really, really important. Earning money is hard and annoying most of the time.

Every time you don’t spend money on something, you can not only keep it, but put it to good use.

My Acorns account is a good demonstration this. I’ve received an 8% return on my funds in the last year.  That means every dollar I put in is now worth $1.08 – for doing nothing!

Sure, I’m not going to spend that 8 cents all at once. But when you add this up over time, it’s powerful. Over the next year, I’ll be earning 8% (or whatever it turns out to be) on $1.08 – not just the original dollar.

And this, my friends, is the magic of compound interest. 

The graph below is from the MoneySmart compound interest calculator (which I freaking love). The pink columns show what happens if I keep my $1000, continue earning 8% every year, but do nothing else for 10 years.

It’s nice. You get $1220 of free money, and come out with $2220. Good outcome, but no reason to crack out the champagne.

However, if you add just $100 a month, look what happens. That is literally the cost of buying a takeaway coffee every day. If you allocate that to an investment fund for 10 years, you could walk away with over $20,000!

Those light blue columns are the ‘free’ money – the interest earned over that time.

Source: moneysmart.gov.au

There are lots of assumptions in this example, including getting 8% returns (not guaranteed with shares). But you get the general picture.

Every dollar you don’t spend is good. Every dollar you don’t spend, and invest in something more productive, is even better. 

That ‘productive’ thing may just be paying down your mortgage. Don’t get me started on how much you can save by doing that – I have a whole post in the works about it.

But you get it, right?

And finally, here is a tip from Grandma White, which has served me well over time:

If something has green mould, cut it off and it’s fine to eat the rest. If it’s pink mould, throw it out. 

I take no responsibility for public health outcomes on that one.

*Side note about my step-grandma Gwen: in her later years she told her daughters “If I die, don’t throw out my wardrobe without getting the $17,000 out of the back.” Over the years, she’d saved whatever was left over from the housekeeping money and stashed it there. Perfect.

Assumptions in calculator:
Scenario 1: $1000 deposit,  no additional payments, 8% interest each year.

Scenario 2: $1000 deposit, $1000 monthly payment, 8% interest each year.
Past performance of an investment isn’t a reliable indicator of future performance.

photo credit: Nicholas Erwin Change via photopin (license)

How to feel wealthier, happier and more in control of money

What do you get when you cross a yoga teacher with a financial adviser?

No, that’s not the opening line to a joke.

Lea Schodel is both of those things, and as a result, is the driving force behind a more mindful approach to money. Lea and I came across each other on the interwebs and were like “Yasss, you totally get it!”… “It” being the way money and emotions and wealth and being a woman all intersect.

Lea’s approach to the topic has seen her sprout a social enterprise, The Mindful Wealth Movement, focused on helping women connect their hearts and minds with their money. And then make better decisions about it.

One of the things she provides – for free – is a 30 Day Mindful Wealth Challenge, where you receive a daily email with a little task. Some of them are very practical, like renaming a bank account to fit with a goal – “Adventure Bucket” or “Freedom Fund” for example. Others are more reflective, such as, “Make a list of all the things that wealth means to you”.

What I enjoy is that each day has an affirmation linked to the challenge, like “I am creating a wealthy life”.  It’s a simple but powerful process to reassess your relationship to money.

Lea recently wrapped up a crowdfunding campaign, raising money to provide mindful wealth and financial literacy workshops to disadvantaged women. And she still found time to share some of her thoughts with you, the Fierce Girl community, in answer to my questions. So please read on for some tips from this inspirational woman. 

What prompted you to marry mindfulness with wealth?

As a financial planner, I completely understand the need for the technical knowledge and skills (left-brain) required to manage money well. But to me, this is only half of the skillset required to have a healthy relationship with money. As a yoga teacher and wellbeing coach, I also recognise that our mindset – our thoughts and feelings (right brain) – affect our ability to manage money well.

I often say, “in order to manage money well, we need to manage ourselves well”.

Our thoughts and feelings will either support or sabotage the actions we take with our money – and often we’re not even aware of it.

A lot of what we do with our money is sub-consciously driven: done out of habit or influenced by our emotions. We all have a complex money story and a whole range of beliefs and attitudes towards money. This can either support us or limit us when it comes to earning, keeping and growing our wealth.

After studying mindfulness, I saw it as an ideal philosophy and practice to apply to not only our finances, but our lives and relationships too. Mindfulness is all about creating attention and becoming present and fully aware of our current situation.

Why did you decide to build it into a social enterprise?   

I have this motto in business: Be guided by purpose and be driven by passion. I believe you can work in a space where you generate profit but also generate impact.

Money has such an impact on all areas of our lives. Having a good relationship with money and knowing how to manage your finances is fundamental to wellbeing as well as the ability to live healthy, balanced and stress free lives.

In my experience in Financial Services over the last 16 years, I’ve come to realise that many women (and men) are missing even the most fundamental personal finance concepts and it’s not really their fault – basic financial management wasn’t taught in schools or even households for most people growing up.

I’m on a mission – to help women create a conscious and purposeful relationship with wealth, help them take control of their finances and allow them live happier, healthier and wealthier lives.

I also feel that if as a society we are more conscious and purposeful with money, then it will address social issues such as depression, suicide, homelessness, domestic violence and poverty.

It will also help close the gender pay gap and retirement shortfalls that many women face. I’d also like to see more women become conscious consumers, practice gratitude and maybe even embrace the minimalist movement.  

The final reason I created a social enterprise is because I wanted to make financial literacy and education inclusive to all women, not just those who can afford to pay for financial advice.

It doesn’t matter how much or how little money women have, we all need to know how to manage it properly if we want to use it in a way that supports our dreams, goals and wellbeing.

What stories do you see women often sabotaging their finances with?

Money is so fraught with emotion. Fear, guilt, shame or embarrassment often prevent women from seeking help or even taking the next step to gain control of their money situation.

I see a lot of women who hand over the responsibility to someone else to manage their money, and those who secretly wish and hope someone else will save them – or sweep in and fix their finances for them!

I have a lot of women tell me that they find money boring, or that they’re too creative, or just don’t care about money. It’s almost as though they feel that it’s not really a feminine thing to be money savvy or an investor.  

I see lots of women mixing up their self-worth with their net worth – thinking that they can spend their way to higher self esteem, or trying to value themselves and their success based on the clothes they wear and the things they own.

Finally, I see many women completely disconnected from their future selves, too busy living in the now to consider the impact that their money decisions today may be limiting their opportunities for tomorrow.

If you want to start practicing mindful wealth, where do you start?

Mindful wealth is all about creating connection with and bringing awareness to your wealth, accepting your current money situation and then taking intentional action to create wealth. 

The simplest way to begin is by starting to notice how money is flowing in and out of your life. Whether it is quick to earn and easy to spend, whether you are hanging onto it too tightly, whether you are oblivious to how much you earn, spend, own and owe.

From this place of awareness, you can begin to notice how your emotions and habits may be driving your relationship with money.

Any time you spend or receive money, check in to see how you are feeling, or take a moment to explore the “why” behind your actions with money.

This helps us to create more connection to our money habits (which are often driven from our sub-conscious).

There is a saying that the way to “buy happiness” is not to buy things, but to spend the money you do have, on the things that you value most in life. If you know what you truly value, then you can begin to use the money you do have to bring more of that into your life.

See if you can define what wealth means to you personally. Have a go at thinking about what is present in your life already, or that you’d like to have more of in order to feel happy and abundant.

Whilst money may certainly be one of these things, see if you can list all of the other things that you need or like to have in life and that bring you the most satisfaction and happiness.

This can be an interesting exercise, as often we have this idea that to be wealthy, we need to have lots of money. Then, in the pursuit of more money, we can sometimes lose sight of the things that make us feel truly wealthy.

What if you’re partnered, and your partner isn’t on board? How do you manage that?

I so often see “opposite” money personalities in partnerships, whether romantic or business. Given money is a leading cause of relationship breakdown and divorce, we can certainly do ourselves and our relationships a favour if we can get on the same page as our partners.

In any partnership, it’s important to recognise that we all have a unique money personality, experiences, values and habits. If we can create awareness around what these are for our partner, and they can understand what they are for us, then we can understand what drives our behaviours.

I use a great tool with my clients, which helps couples to discuss their dominant habits and attitudes with money. Then they can begin to work out a plan to support each other’s strengths and challenges when it comes to managing money.

If you’re not on the same page as your partner when it comes to your finances, the first place to start is with communication.

If you can’t communicate with each other without arguing, then it could pay to see a financial counsellor or money coach to begin the conversation in a neutral environment.  

I’m a big fan of transparency between partners, but I also insist that partners maintain some financial independence.

 Joint accounts are great to manage joint and household expenses and debt, but I think it’s also necessary to have individual accounts for personal spending money, so that each partner can spend freely on the things that they value most.

So, these are just some of Lea’s wise words. There is a lot to process there! And because I know you guys like practical tips, I have crunched it down for you into 3 Top Tips for Mindful Wealth.

 

 

photo credit: MrJamesBaker http://bestreviewsbase.com/

What’s holding you back from being Fierce?

It was always going to be tight. I found it hard to negotiate the notice period at my old job and the start date of my new job. Well, when I say ‘negotiate’, I mean I didn’t do that at all; I just did what everyone asked me to.

And so it was that I found myself at Queenstown airport yesterday, with heart racing and palms sweating. With all the demands from employers old and new, I ended up flying to a wedding in Queenstown for about 72 hours. What I didn’t know is that Queenstown is in the Top 10 most difficult-to-land-in airports in the world, with the runway flanked by mountains and choppy winds. The pilots tried to land twice, failed, then flew on to Christchurch to refuel and consider their options.

All this was revealed after we’d cleared customs and reached the gate, and so began a three-hour wait to see if the plane would come back to Queenstown, if it could land, and whether I could start my new job today.

I was pretty zen at first, but as the time dragged on, I cursed my decision to cut it so fine, and my failure – two year earlier – to negotiate down the excessive notice period in my contract.

Thank goodness for those lovely pilots at Jetstar (you didn’t think I’d be on a full-price airline did you?). They finally landed on the tarmac and hauled us back to Sydney.

Knowing your value

It’s a strange thing. If you ask me whether I’m good at my job, I’d say yes. My skills are in demand, I’m a specialist in my field, I bring a wide range of experience. And yet, I have never asked for a payrise. (Click here if you want some tips on that).

In fact, I forgot to ask about salary in my last performance review. I’ve never negotiated a starting salary, always taken what they offered.

This is nothing less than a failure on my part. Because most pay increases are incremental, the earlier you fatten your pay packet, the greater the increase next time. If I hadn’t been so damn nice, there’s a good chance I would make more money now.

This was brought into stark relief for me in the last few months. I was headhunted by a recruiter who was puzzled by the mismatch between my level of pay and years of experience.  I stumbled and mumbled when he he asked what salary I was looking for next.

Then when my employer replaced me, they hired someone with less talent and paid him more. It makes me angry, but at myself more than anyone.

Here I am, cheerleading for the girl squad and telling them to take life and money and career by the balls, but I’m not the best example.

However, I’m trying. I had an ex-investment banker give me a stern talking-to at the wedding. I had an old client make me promise I wouldn’t resign again without him coaching me. I had a colleague promise her I’d never again say in an interview “I’m not that focused on money”. Yeah, that was an actual thing I said. WTF.

The cost of pleasing others

I’ve been trying to unpick the puzzle about why I’m my own worst enemy in this sense. Why do I dislike asking for money? Why do I feel uncomfortable putting a dollar value on myself?

One factor was a fear of the price I’d pay. I believed that if a company paid you more, they expected a pound of flesh for it. That every pay rise would come with a concomitant increase in work. That’s not the case, in reality. You learn to work smarter, you find balance by being good at what you do and you learn to create boundaries.

Another issue is impostor syndrome. I question, in my heart, whether I deserve more money. Whether I’m that good or useful or worthwhile. Usually I can tell that bitch inside my head to shut the hell up, but not all the time. Sometimes she stands at the edge of my thoughts and whispers such taunts to me.

But I think the biggest issue is my tendency to be a people-pleaser. I don’t want to rock the boat by being troublesome. I don’t want to be the difficult one who makes a fuss. I feel uncomfortable making others uncomfortable. And so I leave difficult conversations about money well alone.

So now that I have identified these issues I can work on them. I can be alert to my own pitfalls.

When I was in that airport, waiting for the plane to break through the clouds, I decided that I had hit rock bottom on people pleasing. Today is the day where I start saying no more often. Where I value myself and my skills and my time more dearly. Where I start learning how to put aside the discomfort of negotiation, and do it anyway. I can do hard things in other areas of my life, so surely I can do it here.

I tell you all this not just because I am a massive over-sharer (although I am), but as a cautionary tale. I see a lot of women consistently undervalue themselves or question their worth in dollar terms. Granted, I’ve also seen women go hard in negotiations, (sometimes against me, their boss!) and succeed in getting more than they had been offered.

The tendency not to make demands seems to sit somewhere alongside the female tendency want to be smaller, less troublesome, less Fierce.

The world pushes us to take up less space all the time: to diet away our body fat, not to get ‘too big’ (as a weightlifter, I’m sometimes warned against this fate). We are told to quieten our voices lest we be called ‘shrill’ (god knows I have been).

All of these are simply attempts to stop us owning our power, and I admit, I fall for it sometimes. I doubt myself, I question my talent, I wish to be leaner. And so do many, many women I know and love.

So I encourage you to question which behaviours are holding you back from being truly Fierce.

What is stopping you from owning your power? Because whether or not we acknowledge it, our wealth is tied up deeply with our power. Our power to demand something from the world. Our power to say, “I am here, working and caring and sweating and delivering, and I ask you to remunerate me accordingly”.

Nobody will give us anything more than we ask, so we must to learn to ask.

And I am learning to ask.

Photo credit: Queenstown Airport by Curtis Simmons

What marriage – and divorce – taught me about money

My house was sold on Saturday. It sounds exciting but is in fact painful. It’s one of the last steps on the road to settling my divorce.

Regardless of the price my property commanded, selling it was one more loss in a long process of shedding – which is what a marriage breakdown all comes down to.

You shed your identity as a couple and as a wife. You leave behind cherished memories and possessions that hurt too much to think about, so you shed them too.

And when it’s all done, you find yourself stripped back to a strange hybrid self. The single self you were all those years ago, when you were on your own. But she is overlaid with a new, wiser, older version, burnished by loss and forged in fire.

So because I am a bit too sad and emotional to give you awesome happy money tips today, I instead give you some hard-won lessons. Take from them what you will.

You can walk away with (almost) nothing and be happy. I left a 3-bedroom townhouse with a double garage and extra storage. I ended up with 1 room in an apartment, no garage and no storage.

It was already furnished, so I left a house full of furniture, appliances, books and ‘stuff’. Left it there, threw it out, donated it or squeezed it into a few boxes in mum’s garage. I kept my (real) Tupperware though – that shit has a lifetime warranty!

So, I barely own any stuff now. And I am happier than I have been in years. Now, correlation is not necessarily causation – I am happy for other, more fundamental reasons.

But this process of leaving things proved to me that beyond the basics (like containers for your epic food prep sessions), you don’t need heaps of stuff to be happy.

Money means choices. Nobody gets married thinking it will end. I didn’t think it would happen to me. But sometimes it does, and it did.

And if you’re the one who wants to leave, you have to deal with the emotional upheaval just as much as the practical shitstorm. Finding rent and bond for a new place is a big expense.

I was able to do that because I had savings. I had an income. I could choose a nice apartment in a nice area. That meant I could focus all my attention on the essentials, like bursting into tears on the train every morning, for example.

You need to share the responsibility for money. You won’t be surprised to hear that I was in charge of all the finances. This wasn’t good for either of us. I felt burdened and he felt frustrated by my decisions.

I see both men and women fall into this trap. It seems easier to give up control, but it actually drives you apart. Managing money together means you share the wins and handle the challenges together, rather than one person shouldering the blame for your financial outcomes, or guilt-tripping the other one.

Ultimately, nobody is going to look after your interests like you do. No matter how happy your relationship, you’ll never regret giving yourself the knowledge and tools to be in control of your life and your choices.

You can always reinvent yourself – I’m the Arts graduate who fell into PR. I was all about words and books and writing. And here I am, rocking an actual qualification in finance and being called an ‘expert’ (haha thanks Mamamia).

I was the unsporty, uncoordinated one, and here I am about to compete in a powerlifting competition this weekend. (I won’t beat anyone, but will rock the outfit anyway).

You just never know how things will turn out. You are just one decision away from changing your life, or someone deciding to change it for you.

This is both liberating and terrifying. The only thing to do is be ready for anything – to embrace the new opportunities or tackle the crises. And to put away what money and resources you can, in order to do that successfully.

So that’s what I learnt once I picked my life up and put it back together. If I had to sum it up, I’d say, no matter what happens: you’ve got this.

Why the baby boomers have all the money, and what we can do about it

I love my parents, and my parents’ friends and all the wonderful baby boomers in my life.

But geez they annoy me as a generation.

Swanning around in million dollar properties they paid 25,000 bucks for. Earning a tax-free income in retirement. Cashing in on their free university qualifications without a HECS debt in sight.

Baby boomers account for 25% of the population but own 52% of the wealth. They built their careers and wealth over an unprecedented period of economic growth.

Did you know we’ve now had more than a hundred quarters of positive growth? This is like having a hundred consecutive days of perfect dieting with no accidental chocolate incidents – i.e. practically unheard-of. (I admit we have lived through this period too – but with a lower base of assets to grow from).

Sure they had the recession in the 90s and the 1987 stockmarket crash. They had to live through skinny jeans before lycra was invented, and they didn’t get to play Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego at school. I’m not saying their lives were perfect.

But they have done ok, and Smashed Avo-gate brought this simmering divide to the surface. It’s partly because the world has changed so quickly, so deeply. Home ownership used to be an expectation for any adult with a job and a bank account. It’s now a mythical place of $100,000 deposits, heartbreaking auctions and million-dollar median prices.

The luckiest among us will get help from our parents. Others have parents who can’t or won’t contribute, creating a further divide.

So, what can we do about it? How can we stop those greedy (but totally loved and appreciated!) baby boomers from stealing our futures?

Don’t get mad, get even. And get advice.
Investment Trends says baby boomers account for four in five dollars under advice (i.e money being looked after by financial advisers). That means they are out there getting financial advice while all of us suckers are messing around reading The Fierce Girl’s Guide to Finance. JK! That’s a great idea!

But it might not be enough. I’m not a profesh, and I can’t tell you what’s best for your circumstances.
Sure, advice isn’t free, but it is an investment. Do it early, do it right and it will pay dividends in future. It’s like the difference between messing around at the gym on your own and losing half a kilo in six months, or getting a PT and dropping 5kg in six weeks.

And just like paying a PT makes you really think twice about eating that piece of cake (because hey, you just dropped 80 bucks on a workout), getting a financial plan can make you much more focused and disciplined. If you want to find a good one, my homegirl Nicole P-M has a good column about this.

If you still don’t want to stump up for the full box and dice, you could look at a digital option – aka Robo-advice. Decimal and Stockspot are some of the bigger players (but I haven’t used them so can’t provide a recommendation).

Take Baby Boomer advice with a very big grain of salt. The stuff our parents did to get ahead was done in a different world. Back in the 80s you could get 15% interest for sticking money in the bank. Inflation could be up to 10% as well, but worst case scenario, that’s still a 5% gain.

The best you can hope for today is a 3% interest rate if you shop around. Inflation has been hovering around 2%. So, that’s a big old 1% gain for stashing your money in a bank. (Don’t understand the inflation thing? Check out this post).


Before 2008, the world hadn’t heard of quantitative easing (i.e. governments printing money) or negative interest rates (an actual thing). Now, bank deposits barely keep up with anaemic inflation rates (and in countries like Switzerland you have to pay the bank to look after your money, thanks to negative interest rates. I shit you not).

Buying property was a stretch, but a sure bet for building wealth. You could probably even do it on one income. Today, a mortgage that’s 6 or 8 times the average income means you both work and possibly pay for childcare too. And the stockmarket generally doesn’t deliver the double-digit returns it did back then.

The finance industry calls this a ‘low growth, low return’ world.
So hey, thanks boomers for setting that up!

I’m sorry that have no good news for you on this front. It’s going to be like this for a while yet.
What it does mean is that taking advice from your folks can be tricky. They’re in a different headspace (in retirement or close to it) and need to focus on protecting their nest egg.


But we don’t.


There’s a concept called ‘pushing up the risk curve’ – it means that you take on more risk in order to chase higher returns. Instead of buying bluechip stocks you buy cheaper, more speculative ones. Instead of investment grade bonds you buy unrated ones. Instead of buying fixed interest bonds, you buy shares with high dividends.


Remember when you first start drinking alcohol and it took you two Bacardi Breezers to get hammered? But as you increase your ‘piss fitness’ you need a whole six pack and some shots to get to ‘hilarious drunk shenanigans’ level.

Similarly, we need to take more risk in this environment to get the same returns as before.


I am NOT saying go to Vegas and put it all on black. I am NOT saying attend a property spruiker seminar that promises you vast riches if you sign up RIGHT NOW, TONIGHT ONLY!

What I am saying is that we may need to look at something more aggressive than a bank account. Buying bank shares because your dad says they’re good? Maybe not. Buying an investment property because your parents made a killing on a Gold Coast apartment circa 1994? Maybe think twice.

The good thing is, we are young. We can tolerate more risk. If we go backwards we have many more years to go forward.

So just make sure you run any well-meaning advice through a filter, the same as you would when your mum gave you fashion advice as a teenager. (On second thoughts, my mum probably had some useful insights then). 

And short of just asking your folks to stump up funds for a house deposit, I don’t have a lot more advice than this: save more, spend less. That’s what a lot of our parents did. My family ate at the Yarrawarrah Windmill Chinese Restaurant once in a while, but that was the eating out budget. They didn’t get a new iPhone every two years. We had the world’s shittiest cars (Subaru Enduro – wtf). They never took to us to Disneyland. And that’s how my parents ended up paying off the house.

So, take the best bits of the boomers, ignore all the cushy tax breaks they’ve made for themselves, and crack on with you own money goals.

 

Daddy Lessons: 3 tips from a Fierce Girl father

While support for this blog from the sisterhood has been fantastic, I’ve also been delighted by the number of men who have got behind it.  My dad is one of these honorary Fierce Guys, and because I am studying for my last exam, he offered to do a guest post. What a legend.

So, here are some tips from a guy who lives the ideal retirement lifestyle, after a long and intense career in the corporate world.

A Fierce Girl dad chips in – by David White

I’d better fess up at the outset.  I’m one of those baby-boomers.  You know, the ones who got a free university education, lucked out in the property market, got the best out of the super system.  What could I possibly have to say to the Gen Ys and Xs who have to live in a much less opportunity-rich environment?

Trust me, I know how lucky I’ve been and the media keeps reminding me if I forget.  But I think there are a few rules applicable at any time, which is what my Fierce Girl has been trying to tell you.  So that you don’t have to listen for too long to an old bloke’s pontificating, I just want to suggest three ideas you might consider.

Your super

I know it’s getting hard to trust the system when they keep tinkering with super.  Do you really want to put your money into a game where the goalposts keep moving?  Here’s the thing, though – even this penny-pinching government won’t change the rules backwards.  They had a go recently and their own hard-arsed conservative mates forced a backdown.  All the rule-changing has confirmed this  – every bit you can get into your super account before the next bit of tinkering is a bonus that will pay you back later on.

I would say to you, stuff every bit of left-over cash you can manage into your super account, while the rules let you still contribute.  Do it to the point where it hurts you just a little bit.  In 20 or 30 years’ time you will love yourself for it.

One thing you need to remember, though, is that your super balance (even though you might not be able to get your hands on it for decades), is counted at its face value as part of your total asset pool in some cases.  So if you find your Mr Darcy, and he turns out to be Mr Wickham, all your hardscrabble super would fall into the pot to be divided between you.  It will hurt you to have to give that creep anything, when he’s been out putting new gadgets on his four wheel drive and drinking fancy single malt Scotch while you’ve been sensibly trying to assure your financial future together.  And now he wants some of your super!

But think about this if that shit happens to you – what you have in your super can never be replaced if you have to trade it away as part of the split, because of those changing rules.  Maybe let that freeloader have a bit more of the hard assets, and hang on to as much of the super pie as you can.  Down the track you ‘ll be feeling smug when all he can afford is Johnny Walker Red and a secondhand Hyundai.

Don’t buy a Porsche

That may be the wankiest piece of advice you will ever get in the Fierce Girl’s Guide.  But there was this one time, late in my career, when for the only time ever via some fluke in the market, the company had a great result and we maxed out our bonuses.  The executive team did particularly well out of it (yeah, I know, fat cat bosses).  Out of the seven of us, the car park count was:  two of the most expensive Harley Davidsons you could buy; two Porsches; one BMW.  One of us (a girl of course) put it towards the house she was in the midst of buying.  Being the tight-arse I am, I paid off my last bit of debt.

Now I’m never going to have another chance to buy a Porsche.  But every time I see some grey-headed dude drive past in one, it reminds me that I made a good decision.

What should you do if a bundle of cash falls unexpectedly into your lap?  I would apply the 80-10-10 rule.  With 80% of it, do something boring and sensible:  pay it off your mortgage, invest it, stick it into super.  With 10%, blow it on yourself and get something you’ve really lusted after but couldn’t prudently afford.  Then give the last 10% away, to your family, to charity, to some cause you’re passionate about – it will feel amazingly good.  You’ll end up with a triple shot of self-esteem, instead of that hangover feeling after you pissed the money away.

It’s not all about you

Without wanting to contradict all the good advice you get from this Guide, I want to suggest that you don’t button yourself down so much financially that you might be hurting people you love.  I asked my Fierce Girl if I was too much of a tight-arse when she was growing up.  She said, “It wasn’t too bad, but you should have taken us to Disneyland.”

She’s right, I could have afforded it, and going to Disneyland in your thirties just isn’t the same. Thus my unrelenting financial prudence was in some ways not so clever.  Precious memories can give just as good a return on investment as bluechip shares.

So, you go for it, all you Fierce Girls.  It’s a hard world out there, but you can do it.  Oh, and remember your dads love you, and we’re proud of you.

Note from Belinda: If you haven’t seen Beyonce sing Daddy Lessons with the Dixie Chicks, do yourself a favour and go here

Also, my dad and I have blogged together for ages on http://www.lifein500words.wordpress.com if you’re interested. #nerdfamily

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