The Fierce Girl's Guide to Finance

Get your shit together with money



Two insider tips from the finance industry that may just make you rich

Haha sorry about the clickbaity title. But it’s kind of true. These two things may just help you get past your fear and lack of confidence about investing.

You see, there are a lot of vested interests who like to make investment seem haaaard and scary and complex. (So you pay them to do it for you, ya see?).

But it doesn’t have to be that hard, I swear. So, here I offer you two truth-bombs to consider.

1. It’s all about the big picture, not the details.

There’s an investment concept called ‘asset allocation’, and before you hit the snooze button, let me explain why it’s important. It refers to the big ol’ mix of investments you have, like a  recipe.

A bit of property here, some shares there, here’s a parcel of bonds, and here’s a pinch of alternatives!

Each ‘asset class’ has its pros and cons, and when you mix them all together you get a delicious mixed fruit cake. (psych! fruit cake isn’t delicious at all).

People selling you investment products will often tell you theirs is the best. Performance this, fees that. But you know what’s more important than the separate ingredients? The recipe you start with.

(Actually that assertion is a hotly contested debate in the industry, on a par with the great Kimye vs T Swift battle).

Broadly speaking though, having a good, diversified mix of investments is pretty damn effective for building wealth. The recipe should be matched to your goals and timeframe.

When you go to a robo-advice service like Six Park or Stockspot, they are helping you choose the right recipe for you. They’ll also help with the ingredients, of course, through ETFs and Index funds (more on that below). So robo-advice can be a good (low-cost) way to get your head around the whole shebang.

The takeout: Don’t worry about finding the ‘perfect’ fund manager or picking the ‘hot’ stocks. Just make sure you have the right mix of investment types (i.e. asset classes) to meet your goals. 

2. Investors do stupid things … all the time.

That’s why markets are so choppy. At the moment, some of the most valuable stocks on the ASX are trading way beyond their intrinsic value. Take Afterpay – the favourite frenemy of the cash-strapped millennial shopper.

It’s currently overpriced because investors are piling into it in a frenzy.

The stock is currently trading at an astronomical high – a Price Earnings (PE) ratio of over 180 forecast earnings. You don’t need to know what a PE ratio is, you just need to know that even hot-tech-fave Google only has a PE of around 20.

Basically this stock is as popular as a fidget spinner in the playgrounds of 2017 (and personally, I think it’s heading for the same fate).

Markets boom and they bust. Particular stocks are in fashion, then they aren’t. Investors get caught up in ‘irrational exuberance’, and pile into the same companies, based on a good feeling and  some comforting projections in an Excel sheet.

When a professional investment manager does this, it’s called ‘active management’, and they charge handsomely for it. Unfortunately, they aren’t always worth the money.

But you can avoid these professionals and their big bets by just ‘tracking the index’. You see, there’s an alternative to active and it’s called – surprisingly – passive!

Rather than picking particular investments, you just follow the market. The passive-vs-active debate is a long-standing one and I’m not here to adjudicate. (Unlike Kim vs Taytay, where I am team Taylor to the death).

I will say, this week the New York Times published a piece (which I stumbled across today – after I’d planned this post), where the author opines:

I had accepted the imperfect choices and high fees imposed by so-called active mutual funds, and I had compounded those liabilities by buying and selling at the wrong times.

“The Dalbar data leads to the inescapable conclusion that most investors, this one included, are bunglers: We panic and exult at the wrong moments, impairing our chances of success.”

He goes on to conclude:

“Most people, including me, would be better off if we gave up on being smart and stuck with a simple approach: long-term holdings of diversified, low-cost index funds, using only money we can afford to tie up for years.”

So if you are wondering how to get in on this passive investing gig, you could do worse than read my aptly titled post ‘WTF is an ETF‘, or check out Canstar here. If you want to dip your toe in the water, I like Raiz, because you can invest a small amount.

The takeout: there are simple, low-cost ways to access investments like shares, and they are totally within your reach and skillset. 

It’s not you, it’s them: why finance seems boring AF, and what you can do about it

If finance seems about as exciting to you as a relationship with Aidan, I’ve found one of the reasons why.

I had this insight while witnessing one of the beloved rituals of the investment industry: roadshows.

It goes like this: you have an investment product to sell. You want stockbrokers and financial advisers to sell it, so you go around town presenting to them. There is a PowerPoint that’s been through 20 versions. A slightly weary senior management team who has given the same spiel three times that day. And a group of finance people who vie to ask the smartest-sounding questions.

I’ve  been at a couple of these briefings lately, and holy hell, what a sausage-fest they are.  At the first one, there were no women in the audience. At the second one, there was just one among about a dozen men.

So, there are all these statistics about women’s lack of participation in investing. Women invest less, feel less confident about their decisions and often leave it to their partner (some good stats here).

And when I look at who’s running the show, I think ‘well, duh’.

What’s does ‘women’s investment’ look like?

I’m not sure, really. One of my inspirations, Sallie Krawcheck, is a serious boss-lady who has thought about it a lot. She used to be CEO at a giant finance company, and these days she runs a women’s investment firm called Ellevest. (It’s in the US, so I haven’t invested with them, but I totally would.)

Sallie has a lot of data and insights into why a female-focused investment firm needs to exist, which I won’t replicate here. Check out the website here.  Broadly, we have different goals, income patterns and attitudes to money – so why not have our own approach to investment?

But nearly all women have worn men’s clothes before. Maybe you stole a perfect t-shirt from your husband, shopped in the men’s underwear section, bought a pair of Cons, or inherited your dad’s 1970s maroon tuxedo jacket and worn it out on the town (thanks dad!).

So you would know that just because something is designed with a man in mind, doesn’t mean it’s wrong for women. And investing is the same.

Sure, most investment products were created by a bunch of guys with a serious Excel spreadsheet addiction. And yeah, they are packaged up and sold by a bunch of guys in suits. And the language and marketing around them is created without women in mind.

Who cares? Invest anyway!

Let’s not wait for the finance industry to achieve gender diversity. I’m not sure it ever will. Instead, let’s take matters into our own hands. Here are three things you can do right now to take control of your finances and low-key smash the patriarchy.

  1. Educate yourself – Take time to understand the basics of money management, investing and financial lingo. This website is a good start (of course!) but there is also a wealth of information out there (pun intended). Start at, get to know The Barefoot Investor, head on over to, or just ask your smart, financially literate friends where they learnt about money.
  2. Make a plan – You don’t have to go and drop a few thousand on a financial planner. Set a SMART goal, map out a plan to get there and then allocate your funds accordingly. This is literally the basis of all financial planning, so if you can do this for your next goal, you’re streets ahead. (Some goal setting tips here)
  3. Dip your toe into investing – Not all investments need $50k in cold hard cash to get started. Microsaving apps like Raiz (formerly Acorns) can get you acquainted with investing on a small scale. You can buy an Exchange-Traded Fund (ETF) for a few hundred dollars (learn more in my post here). If you love property but can’t afford your own place, you can buy a little bit with companies like BrickX (I haven’t invested with them so I’m not endorsing it, but you can always do your own research). The point is, you don’t need to be a baller in a suit, wearing a Rolex, to get started as an investor.

Remember: just because  the finance industry is dragging its feet on gender diversity, you don’t have to miss out  on making money. Take charge and take your seat at the table!

I saved some money. How do I invest it? (And WTF is an ETF?)

Let’s assume you’ve been following the Fierce Girl principles, and now you have squirreled away a nice lump sum. Maybe it’s $1000, maybe $5000 (you go girl!).

Now you want to put it to work, as it’s part of a long-term goal. (If it’s for a holiday or something in the next year or two, you can stop reading now and leave it in the bank.)

But if it’s for your F*ck-off Fund, a home deposit or for general unspecified future uses, you might want to invest it. Or you might not. Totally up to you. You don’t go around telling me how to live my life (unless you’re my mum, who provides ‘guidance’ on key issues like not ‘burning the candle at both ends’ and wearing singlets).

So I won’t tell you what to do with your money. Partly because that’s kind of illegal, since I am not a financial adviser. Mostly, though, because it’s a personal decision.

However, you still want to know some of the options. But let me make a couple of important points about investing – at any level, from novice to bad-arse billionaire.

1) Only time will tell you whether you made the right decision and 2) Nobody has the secret answer (except Biff, the bad guy in Back to the Future II, who has the Sports Almanac and can bet on everything ahead of time).

If you’re not Biff, then, like the rest of us, you’re making your best guess based on the information you have at the time. Even the rich guys in suits running the finance world – are basically doing that.

Their advantage is the quality of their information – they know a shitload about the thing they invest in.

But they don’t know if China’s economy is set to stop growing, or what would happen if Trump won the election, or whether there’s a huge meteor about the hit the earth and snuff out humanity. (If it’s the latter, I hope it’s about the same time as the Trump victory.)

The upshot of all this is that I want to give you some options, but encourage you to make a decision that suits you, your goals, personality and lifestyle.

Risk and return

Advisers often talk about ‘risk tolerance’, and get you to do a quiz about it. It’s way less fun than a Buzzfeed quiz like “What Sexy Halloween Costume Should You Wear Based On Your Favorite Food?” (actual quiz, yo!).

But it’s useful to know how much risk can you handle and still sleep at night, and how much can you afford to lose if it all goes pear-shaped.

There is a general concept that more risk brings more reward in investing (aka the risk-reward premium). That’s a vast simplification, but it does explain why you earn bugger-all on bank interest and generally more on shares.

Below are a few options (by no means the ONLY options) that you might want to look into, ask smart people about and generally educate yourself on. Most of them are focused on shares, or things can be traded on the sharemarket, because:

  • that’s where you can boost returns in an easily accessible way.
  • they work well when you have a small amount,
  • you don’t need to borrow to buy them, and
  • you can sell them at any time (unlike a property, for example).

Option 1. Leave it in the bank. A very smart friend of mine, who works in finance, is convinced this is the best option at the moment. Everything is expensive. Central banks have run out of ways to pump up their economies. It’s tough to get a good return. In her words, “The risk premium doesn’t justify the return”, if you invest in shares and the like.

Pros: A bank account is a safe bet. Deposits are guaranteed by the government.

Cons: Your money grows by receiving interest (and not much), not capital growth. i.e. the underlying value of it doesn’t go up, as it could for something like a property or shares.

If you do take this option, be sure to find the absolute best interest rate by comparing accounts on a site like Mozo or Finder. Term deposits are useful if you don’t need the money anytime soon – you get a bit more interest by promising the bank they can have it for a certain time. You can still get it back if you need it, but you forfeit some or all of that interest.

Option 2. Buy an ETF – aka an Exchange Traded Fund, which can be bought and sold like shares, through a stockbroker or online trading account. These tend to track an index (which is made up by a number of listed companies), but unlike an actively managed fund (see below), nobody is picking each of the stocks for you, so it’s cheaper in terms of management fees. Indexes track a lot of different types of assets, such as Australian equities, or even something more exotic like global shares, gold bullion or cyber security stocks.

There are lots of ETF providers these days, such as Betashares (disclosure: they are a client of my agency) and Blackrock iShares. My smart friend, mentioned above, picks ETFs as her second choice. I have exposure to them through the Acorns app, which is kind of like a buffet approach, where you have a whole bunch of ETFs, and can start with a really small amount (I kicked off with fifty bucks).

Pros: A good ‘toe in the water’ if you want to become an investor. You don’t have to decide on one company, so your investment becomes more diversified with a range of assets – i.e. all your eggs are not in one basket. ETFs are easy to buy and sell. There are lots to choose from. And you don’t pay a lot for the privilege.

Cons: You are tied to the performance of whichever asset class you have bought. e.g. if you have Aussie equities and they go down, so does your investment (but they also go up too). They can also be a bit confusing as there is so much choice – see an adviser if you aren’t sure. Or consult the oracle of Google and read reviews. And as with any market exposure, the worst case scenario is losing what you invest. That’s unlikely, but it’s not like the ‘sweet dreams’ security of a bank deposit.

How to get going: These are ‘exchange traded’, so you generally need to buy them through a broker – one of the online brokers will do the trick. Acorns is easy – you download the app and link it to your bank account.

Managed Funds – This is the traditional model, where a bunch of smart people pick investments on your behalf, bundle them up and manage them on your behalf. It’s quite similar to ETFs, in that you buy units in a fund and the value goes up or down based on the performance of the underlying assets. The main difference is that most funds are run by people (known as ‘actively managed’). As a result, there is a pretty big spectrum of performance, both good and bad, at different times.

Pros: If you pick a good one, you can make decent money – annual returns of above 30% are possible. Depending on the fund, you can also get more control and visibility over their investments – for example, Australian Ethical’s managed funds are all screened against their ethics charter, so you aren’t accidentally investing in a company that runs detention centres or digs up coal. (Also one of my clients, and I invest with them too).

Cons: You tend to need a bigger chunk of money to get started. If you pick a dog, you can be paying relatively high fees for poor performance.  When deciding, you should look at long term (i.e. 3, 5 and 10 years) performance.

How to get going: You can apply straight to the fund (some are even old-school paper forms), or some can be bought on the ASX through a service called m-Fund. Again, you’ll need to use a broker for that.

Listed Investment Companies (LIC’s)

These are very similar to both managed funds and ETFs – you buy shares in a company that is listed on the ASX, and its sole purpose is to buy shares in a lot of other companies. You can learn more about them here.

Pros: These often have lower fees than managed funds, but still have an active stockpicking approach behind them. There are some very reliable and established ones with a solid track record, that can give comfort to the novice investor. I used to work for AFIC, the oldest LIC in Australia, and it has weathered all sorts of storms since 1927 (including the Great Depression) and is still popular.

Cons: As with managed funds, you are exposed to losses if they pick poor performing stocks. While you can trade them on the ASX, some LICs don’t have a lot of people buying and selling each day, so you might not get the price you want at the time you want to sell.

How to get going: Once you have found an LIC that meets your needs, you buy them on the ASX, via a broker.

Self-funding instalments – These are a handy little thing that don’t get a lot of press, but can be a good way to boost your earnings by borrowing. Another smart friend of mine said she started her portfolio with these, way back when, and it was a great way to make money over 5-6 years without too much risk.

They are available on offer for a few blue-chip stocks (which tend to be the safest type of direct share investment), such as Westpac. They work like this: say you put up your $1,000, the SFI will match your investment (ie. you get $2,000 worth of shares). Then when the shares pay dividends , instead of you getting the money in your pocket, it goes towards paying down the loan amount.

Pros: You returns that are higher than what you money would get in the bank. It’s an easy way to dip your toe in the water. You can trade the SFI like any other share.

Cons: It is a long-term investment. You are still reliant on the performance of the underlying share and its ability to pay dividends. Borrowing to invest can magnify your gains but also your losses.

How to get going: these are exchange-traded, so you would buy them through an online broker.

Direct Shares – This is basically saying ‘I’ll have five hundred bucks of Company X shares please’ and own them in your own name. The only cost is the broker you have to use to buy them.

My view is: if you know what goes into deciding what makes a company a good one to buy, at a good price, you’d realise why so many people pay others to do it. I have done the basics of company valuation and it’s hard and scary and full of maths. And then there is the research about the company’s business model and strategy, where it sits in the industry, its competitive position etc. It’s a tough gig, and I prefer to leave it to the experts.

Pros: no management fees, buy whatever you like and exclude what you don’t.

Cons: Unless you’re an analyst or read analyst reports, there’s a good chance you’ll pay too much for the shares, or buy shares that don’t meet your needs for capital growth or income. It’s also hard to diversify (i.e. spread your risk) with a small amount of money.

New, fancy, fintechs

There are some newer investment options such as peer-to-peer platforms. Brickx, for example, lets you buy a small share of a residential property. I neither condone nor advocate these – you need to make up your own mind and/or wait to see how they perform. I mention them here to make the point that there are new ideas and ways to invest emerging all the time.

Well if you made it this far, well done. I would say the key is to do your own research and do what makes sense to you. If you are a bit scared, just start small. But don’t feel like investing is too hard or complicated – there are lots of tools and products out there to make it totally do-able.

PS: I’m not an adviser, this is not advice, please do your own research and/or see an adviser before you hand over your cashola.

photo credit: Jeff Belmonte Contando Dinheiro via photopin (license)

Buying shares is pretty much like choosing a husband

For realz. But I’ll get to that.

First up though, why are we talking about shares? Because they can be a solid way to build wealth. And they can be another option if you are priced out of the property market.

However, the stockmarket has been given a bit of a bad rap over the years. Partly because of the dudes who run it. People think they’re like this:

Well, I work with a lot of them and can assure you most of them are way more nerdy. They’re much more likely to ‘slave over a spreadsheet’ than ‘snort coke off a hooker’.

And maybe you think people who play the stockmarket are super-rich, like Goldie Hawn in Overboard (oh, what an 80’s classic!):

Well, go down to any company AGM (a shareholder meeting) and check out the crowd. It’s like this:

There are two types of shareholders. The first is mainly white guys in suits (‘institutional investors’). They invest on behalf of super funds and the like, and don’t go to AGMs because they have private meetings with CEOs in boardrooms with tiny bottles of San Pelegrino.

The other shareholders (‘retail investors’) are normal people like us. A fair few are older people who come to AGMs for the free sandwiches – and because they rely on shares for retirement income.

“But enough random photos, tell us more about shares!” I hear you say. Well, as R. Kelly once said, let me break it down for ya.

“Stocks, shares, equities: what are they?” 

These are all the same thing and they mean you have bought a piece of a company. You are a part-owner of it. You share the risk and the reward. If the value of the company increases, the share price goes up. If it makes a profit, it gives some of it to you. If it goes bust, so does your money.

Types of shares:

Bluechip – this is not an actual technical term. It’s just a way that people refer to big, reliable companies like banks or miners. (Note: being big isn’t a guarantee of reliability. It’s like, you can buy a pair of Jimmy Choo’s and be confident in their quality – but that stiletto heel can still get caught in a crack and snap off.)

These shares are the premium end of the market – you’ll pay more for them, because they are less risky. Buying bluechips is like marrying a guy in his 40s who already has a house and a career . He has done the hard yards and proven he is an adult. But you pay a price – emotional baggage and a bitchy ex-wife.

Bluechips also tend to pay more in dividends but have less capital growth – explained below.

Large cap, small cap – This is short for ‘large capitalisation’, and is the sharemarket value of the company. Each share is worth a certain amount, and there are a certain number of shares out there. When you multiply these, it gives you the ‘market cap’. (Company A has 1000 shares each valued at $1, so its market cap is $1000.) There are also ‘small cap’ and ‘micro cap’ stocks, which are often bought based on their growth potential rather than how they are doing now.

A company’s ‘market cap’  hopefully grows over time, as its profit, size and share price increase. It’s possible to buy a ‘small cap’ stock that becomes a ‘large cap’ years later.  This is like marrying a 28-year-old guy working on a start-up – a decade later you might be living in a waterfront mansion, or struggling to pay for childcare because you’ve become the breadwinner. It’s a bet on the future.

Bottom line: A good share portfolio will often have a mix of large and small companies because they each have their pros and cons.

“Ok, got it. But what will shares actually give me?” 

1) Dividends 

Because you are an owner of the company, management might decide to give you a share of the profits. These are dividends. Management decides how much they will pay each year, once they have run all the numbers.

This is what those retirees at the AGM are looking for, as dividends replace their pay cheques. However, the company might not make a profit. Or it needs to invest the profit into paying off debts. So they don’t pay you anything.

That’s because dividends are ‘discretionary’. A company never has to pay them.

You can choose companies that are really bloody likely to pay them, like a big bank. Overall though, income from shares tends to go up and down, so if you rely on them for your lifestyle, you generally need other assets like fixed-income bonds or term deposits as well.

2) Capital Growth

This is where the big gains can be made. If you had bought shares in Apple back in 1980 – when Steve Jobs was just another nerd in a turtleneck – you would have paid fifty cents each. They are now $110 each. Even allowing for inflation (i.e. things used to cost less – remember when a mixed bag of lollies was 20 cents?), that is still a damn good deal.

Of course, for every Apple there’s another five companies that either fell over, stumbled along or just ran a steady marathon. It’s all about picking the right stocks. Is that 28 year old boyfriend going to make good money, be a caring father, not get a beer gut and stay faithful?

Nobody knows. Even Beyonce. She won on the first three but failed on the last one. That’s exactly the same as picking stocks. The good thing is, you can have as many stocks as you like, whereas society says we can only pick one husband at a time. (Whatevs).

Total shareholder return (TSR) is what you get when you add these together. Often you can choose to keep reinvesting the dividends you get paid (if you don’t want the income), so that boosts your shareholding value. Couple that with capital growth, and that’s your return.

The TSR is based on many factors, including the company’s performance and share price. For example, ANZ Bank has delivered 7.5% TSR on average over the last eight years, while Westpac has delivered 11.5%. Luck, skill and research, basically.

“Shares sound great! Sign me up! Take my money!”

Whoa there sister. Let’s just bear in mind a couple of things about shares.

They are volatile (compared to cash, bonds or property). Their price can go up and down in one day (and usually does). A bit of ‘vol’ (as we like to call it, because we sound cool and smart) is okay over the long-run, but it does mean you need to be flexible. If you want to spend the $5000 in your share portfolio, you can easily sell them. But is the price good that day, week or month? This is why shares are better over at least a five-year time horizon.

All shares are not created equal. Some are dogs. For example, if you bought Myer shares in 2009 for about $3.60 they’d be worth about $1.30 now. I suspect these shares were bought by men who hate shopping, because if any of them had set foot in a Myer they would know the service is shit, the stores are tired and the prices are ‘meh’.

But if you had bought JB HiFi at the same time, for $9.50, you’d be smug AF now, because they are currently $27 each. I know right! Although, why people still buy all those CDs and DVDs baffles me completely. (By the way, if you like these figures, the ASX website has heaps of fun graphs and charts)

So, you can choose your own shares or you can let someone else do it. But even the pros get it wrong sometimes. What we hope is that they get it right more often. Which brings me to the third point.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. This is good old ‘diversification’. As we have discussed before, that’s just a fancy way of saying don’t stock your wardrobe full of just ballet flats, or just high-heels, or just runners. That’s crazy. Same with investments. If you buy shares, buy a range of them, because they will all perform differently over time, and in different conditions.

But how do I buy a whole bunch of different shares with just $1000?

Glad you asked! You can either buy a managed fund or an exchange-traded-fund (ETF). They pool a lot of people’s money and spread it out over a range of shares. (You can click the links to find out more about them).

I won’t give you advice on which ones to choose but I can tell you that I have the Acorns app. This takes small amounts of money out of my bank account every week and puts it into an ETF. It’s pretty cool because you don’t notice the money going out.

I don’t fancy myself as a stockpicker. Firstly, I just finished that subject in my post-grad course, and it was seriously the hardest fucking thing I ever studied. Secondly, I don’t have time to dig into the company accounts of potential investments.

So I put share investments into my mental list of “things better left to experts” (along with tax returns, powerlifting training programs and making laksa).

If you do want to go it alone, you can easily sign up to a broker and do it yourself. Check them out at Canstar (a comparison site).

“Sheesh, that’s so much information, I am just as confused as ever”. 

Ok I hear ya. There is a lot to know. You can always talk to a financial adviser. Or you can just start small. For example, download Acorns. Pop $500 into a managed fund or ETF. Or have a ‘fantasy portfolio’: pick some stocks and watch them over a period of time to see how you do.

What I would say is this: if you haven’t bought a property, (or even if you have), shares are one more option for you to build wealth and become a certified Fierce Girl.

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