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The Fierce Girl's Guide to Finance

Get your shit together with money

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divorce

The single biggest risk to your money is probably not what you think

There is one thing that can change your financial path forever, and it’s not betting on the share market. It’s not entering the Gucci store. It’s not even buying a house.

It’s walking down the aisle.

When you get hitched to a partner, you’re hitching your wagon to their financial future. And even if you’re already married, please read on, because this is literally one of the most important posts I am ever going to write on here.

I know it’s easy for me to sound like the bitter divorcee who lost money in a divorce settlement. (I did, but I am less bitter about it these days).

That’s not what this post is about. I’m at the age (40) where marriages are starting to fall apart. I see it among friends, acquaintances and friends of friends. After all, the most common age for getting a divorce is 45.5 for men and 42.9 for women (ABS).

Like any long-term decision, marriage is a calculated risk. There is a 1 in 3 chance it will end in divorce. If someone offered you a raffle where 1 in 3 tickets offered a prize, you’d jump right in.

And yet, so many people get married without even considering the ‘what if?’. The suggestion of a pre-nup, or to not change your surname, is taken offensively.

We are socialised to believe that romantic love is the most important part of marriage. This is a relatively recent development (it took off with the rise of the Romantic novel in the 18th century).

For thousands of years, though, marriage was  an economic and child-bearing union. (Well, more of a takeover than a union, because the man got to control all the woman’s wealth once it was done).

Our ancestors were generally more clear-eyed about the fact that marriage is about far more than love. And in the age of Instagram weddings, it’s easy to forget there’s a shitload more at stake than a perfect photo album.

Once you’re married, everything you earn and own belongs to you both. Louder for the people at the back!

This is fantastic when you’re sharing and building together. But if it falls apart, everything you have worked for can be pooled together and a line drawn down it. (And that line may not be in the middle.)

Not only that, you will likely have to start over in a practical sense. New life, new home, new furniture, new insurance, new kitchenware. The things I own today bear very little resemblance to what I owned five years ago.

There is another big complicating factor in all of this: children. If you bring kids into the picture, there’s a good chance you’ll take career breaks that mean you earn less, reduce your super and even stunt your career progression.

Sorry, I know this sounds terribly unromantic and depressing. But hey, we aren’t just here for the LOLs; we’re here for the learning too.

A little bit of planning goes a long way

So I want you to consider marriage (or even de facto living) in this way: there’s a high chance it will be great and last forever. But there’s also a chance that it won’t.

It’s like car accidents – you really hope you won’t have one, and mostly you don’t. But guess what, you have to insure that vehicle every year anyway.

So I want to position this concept as Independence Insurance (thanks to a friend came up with this phrase, you know who you are).

This is the kind of insurance you take out regardless of how happy your relationship is. Because you just never fucking know.

Bae might come in one day and say s/he’s leaving. Maybe you catch them cheating (hey, if Beyonce isn’t safe, who the fuck is). Or the red flags you ignored before, gradually become so big and red you can’t stay, without harming your mental health or your kids’.

The progression of every break up is different, but the one thing they all have in common is the sense that ‘it wasn’t meant to end like this’.

So what does Independence Insurance involve? Well, the good news is, you don’t have to buy it or renew it or find the paperwork for it every year. It’s more about keeping some things in your control.

Always have at least one bank account in your own name. Up to you how much you have in there. I think at least a couple of thousand is a good start. Not only can you buy surprise presents with it, you can also get the fuck out of dodge if you need to. Honestly, this is such a simple thing to do and if I could go back and change one thing about my marriage, it would be this.

Have a car in your own name. If you only have one car, you may have to battle this one out. But if you have two, have one in your name. In NSW you can’t have two owners on the registration (not sure about other states), which is bloody annoying. But if things turn bitter and your partner has their name on both cars, guess what, s/he can keep them both. Happened to someone I know. Her ex has their two cars sitting in the driveway and she can’t do anything about it until they go to court (some years hence).

Don’t stop investing in your career and earning power. I know, this one is a lot more work than opening a bank account. But think of the women you’ve seen struggle after divorce because they put their own career on the backburner, to raise kids. It’s true, childcare is eye-wateringly expensive, but you need to think about the cost of not working. Not in today’s salary terms, but in the many decades from now if you’ve fallen behind your peers. Or you’ve kept low-stress, flexible, low-paid part-time jobs and now find you’re stuck there.

As my friend said, she never again wants to wake up and feel like she’s trapped in a relationship because she can’t afford to leave.

Take an interest in the financial paperwork. If you’re the spouse who leaves this stuff to your partner, it might seem like they are doing you a favour. But it has a lot of risk too. When I was married, I was the only one who knew how to access our mortgage redraw. If I was a bitch (which I am obviously not, ok), I could have easily drained thousands of dollars out of it, spent it, and he would neither have known nor had any recourse. Paperwork and banking is the worst, but it’s also the key to staying in control, as it gives you full visibility of your position.

Ok let me stop now and apologise if I sound a little preachy. I just want us all to be the best version of ourselves, and that means being realistic even as we are hopeful. I have more on this topic, so stay tuned.

And let me tell you I very much believe in romantic love. Just not as it applies to me haha.

 

Four things I learnt in my 38th year on Earth

It’s my birthday, but YOU get the presents!

Ok that was super cheesy but I just wanted to say it. The good thing about a December birthday is that you get to do a ‘reflections on the year’ post and combine it with a birthday post.

I am totally not one of those people who’s all like ‘oh I don’t like to make a fuss about my birthday’. I am like ‘bow down bitches’.

Me on my birthday

So, during my 38th trip around the sun, here are some things I learnt:

1. Success flows where attention goes – I know this sounds like a lame motivational motto, but go with me here. In the time I have been writing this blog, I have been thinking about money a lot. And in that time, I have upped my salary, boosted my savings, bought a property and generally got ahead. (It also helped that I settled a long-drawn-out divorce, but more on that below.)

Now I am not saying you need to start a finance blog (don’t steal my idea, bitches). But by making a conscious decision to focus on money,  and checking in regularly, you have a much better chance of succeeding.

You also need to plan like a boss, but don’t worry, I gotcha. Check out my worksheet!

2. The best investments you make are in yourself – This isn’t code for ‘treat yoself’; I’m not saying to drop your cash on botox or hair extensions. I mean educating or improving yourself.

I was falling into some patterns, mainly with men, that weren’t serving me well. So, I decided to see a counsellor and clean out all the mental detritus from the marriage and divorce.

Turns out I had a fair bit to unpack from my younger years, my own family breakdown and just the general trauma we pick up from playing this contact sport called life. It has been so worthwhile – there is enormous power in someone else looking at your life experiences and helping you make sense of them.

But it doesn’t have to be doing the inner work. I also graduated from my Applied Finance course, and it means that when The Daily Mail calls me a ‘finance expert’, I feel legit.

So, don’t be afraid to spend on important stuff that makes you a better person. (But always get the best deal, of course!)

3. Valuing yourself is hard but important work – I already wrote about my failures to demand what I’m worth in my last jobs (check it out here). I still struggle with this, but this year I have done better. For example, I set a freelance rate and was shocked and delighted when people agreed to it.

I still struggle with all of this stuff, but I feel like I am more aware and more committed to asking for money, as I get older and tougher and more woke.

4. Divorce is expensive – Well duh, you say. And maybe if I had a different kind of relationship, it would have been a swift and amicable split. But it wasn’t. Now, I’m not throwing a pity party – I just want to alert you to some facts that you don’t generally learn until it’s too late:

  • Your super is part of your marital estate.  I have been a superannuation-nerd since my 20s, making lots of extra contributions. It all went into the pot to get split up, so I had to give a big chunk of it away. Most women have less super than their husbands, but if you are in the minority who doesn’t – be warned. I don’t know exactly what you can do to avoid it – you can’t even spend it because it’s stuck in super. My dad told me to stop paying extra contributions when things were on the rocks (because he is smarter than me). I was slow to do that, which I regret. I could have just spent it on champagne and oysters instead of giving it away.
  • It doesn’t matter who earned what – it all gets split. In some  twist of law, the person who earns more, gets less. Something to do with future earnings – which I translate as ‘the tax for ruining your ex’s future’. So, yeah, even though I earned more, and we had no kids, I walked away with less than half. Again, not a lot I can recommend here other than Swiss bank accounts.

Getting to those outcomes was a hard, costly and emotional war of attrition. But it’s done, I’m in my new place and the future lies ahead.

All up…

It’s been awesome, ladies. To be honest, creating and building this community is the best thing I have done in a long time. To everyone who reads, shares, comments and puts it into practice – I love you all. Thanks for being my Fierce Girls.

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.

What I know for sure about money, and life, and leaving

Oprah’s magazine has a column called ‘What I know for sure’, where people talk about their life truths.

(Now don’t even start hating on Oprah, because she is my total soul-sister). And the fact is, we all have our truths. Hard-earned insights that life teaches us.

So I don’t have any ‘education’ for you today, Fierce Girls. I just have some truths that I want to share. They may resonate with you now, one day in the future or maybe never. We all have our own truths to uncover, and they are different for each of us.

But the great thing is that sharing our truths can start a conversation – with ourselves and each other. We start to turn these truths over, bring them into the light, examine them, see if we like them or if we can discard them.

So here is what I know for sure about money. (And when I say for sure, I mean ‘right now’ – I might change my mind at some point, because that’s called growth).

Nobody cares how much your stuff cost.

You don’t need to buy a handbag with a label. You don’t need to buy expensive wine to take to your friend’s house. You don’t need a fancy European car.

You can buy these things because you like them, or because they are beautiful. I love looking at the one designer thing I own (a Longines watch).

But nobody else really cares – perhaps they give them a cursory thought. But they quickly move on to sizing up the quality of your soul, not the quality of your goods.

And the price of your possessions bears no relationship to the satisfaction you feel with your life.

Maybe this sounds obvious. And yet I see so many people live as though it’s not. Don’t you?

You need far less stuff than you think. 

When my marriage ended, I left a 3-bedroom townhouse with a double garage, to end up with one room in an apartment and no garage.

The new place was already furnished, so I parted ways with a house full of furniture, appliances, books and kitchen gear. Left it, threw it out, donated it and squeezed a few boxes into mum’s garage.

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. Of course, correlation is not necessarily causation – I am happy for other, more fundamental reasons.

But this process of shedding 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.

The more you earn, the more you spend.

I earn twice what I did back in my twenties. And yet, somehow, my life feels the same. It’s a curious thing.

I still shop at K Mart, still buy cheap wine, still drive the same car. Sure, I own more assets. But overall, my life feels very similar.

So it’s great to be ambitious and aim high, but don’t be fooled into the belief that reaching some magical salary will solve all of your money problems. We ratchet up our cost base in line with our payrises, then one day realise that having enough money is always just a little out of reach.

Side note: this is a good reason to put your payrises into extra super payments – because you will likely piss it away anyway.

Money is not about having things, it’s about having choices

Nobody gets married thinking it will end. I didn’t think it would happen to me. But 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, for example.

I was able to do that because I had savings. I had an income. I could find a nice apartment in a nice area. I had choices.

That also meant I could focus all my attention on the essentials, like bursting into tears on the train every morning.

I heard a great term recently: the ‘fuck-off fund’. A stash of money for if you want to leave a relationship or a job. You stash some cash for those times when it’s all too much to deal with.

Those are the kinds of choices you buy yourself when you make good money decisions.

So these are some of my truths. Leave a comment if you have some to add. We’d love to hear them.

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