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The Fierce Girl's Guide to Finance

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goals

How to hack your goals and nail everything in 2019

In 2018, I leaned out and toned up, losing about 5kg ahead of my 40th birthday.

People asked me how I did it, and I’d detect a hopeful tone. What wonderful secret had I found?

Sadly, there are none. I tracked and weighed all my food, stopped boozing and trained for fat loss (i.e. so many reps).

Probably the biggest thing was setting a goal. I’d been powerlifting for a few years, and building strength was always the main game – my goals were more like ‘squat 100kg’.

I was more focused on what my body could do, rather than what it looked like. This year, I switched to an aesthetic goal.

Neither of these goals are good or bad, in my opinion. There is something empowering about reaching a lifting goal, but also in feeling lean, fit and attractive.

The key point is, they provide something to work towards. They were specific, measurable and kept me focused. They kept me home on a Friday night, so my coach wouldn’t kill me on a Saturday morning. They encouraged me to spend time on a Sunday night preparing food for the week. They gave me a reason to say no to high-calorie foods.

New year, new you?

I’m telling you this because it’s a new year, and we all have good intentions. Often it’s about weight loss, but it’s a good time to take stock of finances too.

If I’m honest, my 2018 wasn’t great financially speaking. I was trying to get in the groove of being a homeowner, and quarterly strata fees, coupled with a kitchen renovation, really challenged me.

I had all the basics covered and I saved money, but I could have done a lot better, especially if I’m meant to be a good Fierce Girl example.

Know your weakness, then kick its butt

My biggest weakness isn’t a lack of knowledge or a tendency to spend money on stuff. It’s my lack of organisation. I try, I really do, but it’s a constant struggle against my nature.

You know those people who hate mornings, and you try to make them get up early? They’ll do it, but it takes fives snoozes and the threat of unemployment. And when they do wake, they are cranky arseholes.

That’s how I am with any type of life admin. And it’s why I have a shameful stack of papers in my cupboard, full of tasks that I need to file or action. I just add one more thing and shut the door again.

I know that I’m shit at this, and that I need a way to hack my bad habits. So I’m taking my approach to training and diet – which I’m good at – and applying it to money.

Boiled down, my weight loss success was based on:

  1. Set a goal – fit into the very skimpy outfit I purchased for my party
  2. Track everything – all food, every workout
  3. Rely on habit – regular food prep becomes a non-negotiable activity

Applying this to money, I’ve realised I need to:

  1. Set a goal – I’m going to pay an extra $20,000 off my mortgage in 2019
  2. Track everything – yep, I have to manually enter it into the TrackMySpend app
  3. Rely on habit – once a week I have to sort that pile of admin out and do at least one task

That third one really gives me anxiety, because I know I will struggle with it. But I need to start somewhere if I am going be a fully functioning adult.

The missing piece here is reward. At the gym, I get rewarded with endorphins, and I get validation when people compliment me. So it helps me to stick with it.

But this plan is boring and low on quick wins. So I’m adding in a bonus that if I stay on track with saving, I get to have a trip overseas. And if I do my weekly chore torture, I’m allowed to give myself a monthly treat, up to the value of $50.

There will be other behavioural modifications I need to achieve these goals – for example, the point of tracking is to ensure I spend less on crap (I’m looking at you Priceline and Sephora).

But I feel more prepared and confident knowing I have a plan and a framework.

Setting Goals

If you’re keen to nail your finances in 2019, have a think about what you want to achieve. I have a post about goal setting here, and it includes a simple worksheet you can download.

The goals don’t have to be big and hard. They could be as simple as ‘save $200 a month’. Or they can be specific – ‘Pay for my end of year holiday without a credit card’.

The point is to have them. Without something to work towards, we humans tend to drift into whatever’s easy and in front of us.

But with a goal, you can have a plan. And with a plan, you can have global domination (eventually).

So, here’s to an amazing 2019, and I hope you get all the good stuff you deserve!

Do you need a financial planner – or just a bit of planning?

I got a message from a friend recently, asking me if I could recommend a financial planner.  This friend, let’s call her Gemma, is 27 years old, a few years out of uni and in PR – all of which suggested to me that she isn’t on the big bucks (yet!).

I said hey, why don’t you come over and have a planning session with me. If all you need is some goal setting, then the only cost is that you have to be a case study on the blog. If you need the real deal, then no worries.

She came over, we gossiped about everyone in PR, then we finally sat down with some coloured pens and blank paper (which I effing love!). What follows is of the bones of our conversation.

Let me preface it by saying I’m not a planner. All I am is a person who knows how to ask questions, provide life advice and use a smartphone calculator. The latter one, not even very competently.

But this is the kind of session many people never really do. I had a similar one over cake and coffee about 18 months ago with a mate from work. Sure, he is the head of a Wealth business, but really, he just helped me frame some goals and put some numbers around them. And it was massively useful – it led me to buying my current home … which I bloody love.

Question 1 – What are your goals?

Gemma had helpfully come prepared with these! One short-term goal was to ‘enjoy my lifestyle’, which sounds vague, but seemed to translate to ‘please don’t stop me buying a coffee every day’.

This is where mindful spending comes in. If you really, really love that coffee, and it’s the one thing standing between you and the despair of the working world, then cool. Build it in. Take some other cost out.

Other goals were to move overseas in a couple of years, and to buy a property in her mid-30s. So are these goals do-able? Let’s see.

Question 2. How much are you earning and spending? 

This wasn’t the most exacting process. Ideal world, you’d track every purchase for a month or two, and/or go through your bank statements. But we broke it down enough to get a sense of money in and money out.

This step is so damn critical, but people have a strong aversion to it. They seem scared to look their money dead in the eye, as if it will reach out and punch them.

But actually it’s the opposite most times. Stare that balance sheet down, and it will give you clarity and power.

We worked out that Gemma would have roughly $700 to spare every month, after expenses.

That surplus amount is where all the magic happens. Whether you want to save or invest, you need to play around with incomings and outgoings til you end up with an amount of money you can put to work.

If you are struggling to get to that point, you have two choices: earn more or spend less. So, get a second job, start a side hustle, sell some of your stuff etc. Or go through your spending and work out what you really need, and what you can live without.

Question 3 – How will you allocate your surplus? 

This is where it comes down to timing and priorities. Yeah, you probably can’t do everything you want.

So, what’s most important now, in a year, in five? If you’re looking at goals within those timeframes, putting it in the bank can be the best option, or maybe a low-risk investment  like an enhanced cash product.

That’s because anything less than five years means you don’t have time to ride out the ups and downs of markets.

If it’s longer than that, you can look at higher-risk things like shares and managed funds. This is where it can make sense to see a financial planner, because sifting your way through products is a bit of a mission.

For our friend Gemma, we decided to put most of it towards medium-term goals like going overseas (so, in the bank).

Question 4: How committed are you to your goals?

Then we looked at the viability of saving to buy a property seven years from now. While the idea of saving $100k (a pretty modest 20% deposit these days) sounds bloody hard, it’s not impossible.

The good thing about Gemma’s situation is that she’s at the start of her career. She is also whip-smart and ambitious AF. So even though she is on pretty crap money now, she is going to keep going up and up. The real trick for her is not to allow too much lifestyle inflation.

What if you avoid lifestyle inflation? Today on the left, future on the right. Stay real and you can do some real saving.

That means not spending more as you earn more. And goddamn that is haaaard.

I’ll confess. I earn pretty good money these days, and do a decent job of saving. I’m smashing my mortgage and stuff. But I have pitfalls. Like, I’m currently in a cycle of Shellac manicures (nothing but a dirty addict).

And it’s hard to talk myself out of the $35 spend when I have money in my account. So I am giving myself a few months of enjoyment. I swear I can give up whenever I want. But anyway, I feel your pain babes. If you have money, it’s natural to want to spend it on sugar hits like clothes and restaurants and make-up.

Anyway, you’re going to have lots of growing expenses if you’re in your 20s or 30s. You have so many decisions to make about what to splash out on. You can’t avoid them all. What you can do is stay mindful, set goals and check in on them regularly.

When we worked it out, Gemma can indeed save for a home if she keeps earning more, but doesn’t give into the temptation of pissing it away on fancy stuff. Too often, anyway.

Goal-setting is like going to the gym

It seems hard and sometimes scary beforehand. Gemma told me as much. It’s like you don’t want to hear bad news.

But just like the high you get walking out of a Spin class, it’s a fantastic feeling to have your goals all mapped in front of you.

So don’t be scared. Get your pens and pencils out babes, and get cracking on your future!

Hot tip: Check out this post for more on goal-setting, and a free worksheet I made for you!

3 Money Questions for 2018 (no resolutions required)

New year’s resolutions are made to be broken.

I know that sounds a little Negative Nancy, but hey, I’m not here to piss in your pocket and tell you it’s raining.

Something about a new year fills us with good intentions. But just as the gym empties out by mid-February (thank God), our intentions fade away as time goes by.

Last year I made a resolution to meditate daily. I did it for like six weeks before I decided I don’t like it and would just keep meditating while I do squats.

So, let’s not say we won’t go into Priceline during their 2-day sales. Let’s not lie to ourselves that we will only have drinks in happy hour. Let’s not pretend we’re never walking into a nail salon again. I mean, we can aim to do those things, but will it actually happen? Probably not.

(Although, if you do want some practical money saving tips, check out last year’s very popular post.)

Instead, as we kick off 2018, let’s think about what we will learn, and be, and think. In fact, let’s try these thought experiments.

Question your beliefs – Humans like to build a narrative about ourselves and then stick to it, even if it ceases to serve our interests. But sometimes, we need a Tyler Durden in our lives, to come in and break our narratives apart. (Fight Club reference – and excuse to include a shirtless Brad Pitt pic).

So, I challenge you to identify and question some of your beliefs. You need $X00000 income to be comfortable? You need to spend $X000 a month to be happy? You can only save $X00 a week? Maybe you do, maybe you don’t. But go through the process of questioning it.

One thing my job revealed to me in 2017 is the ridiculous bubble I live in (inner-city, professional, finance industry). I think that a certain income is the minimum needed to be financially comfortable.

Then I see these loan scenarios where the applicant earns $60,000 a year and has saved $20,000 and paid off their credit card debt and raised two kids and whatever. And I realise there is a whole world out there of people who a) have it way harder than me and b) are way better with money than me.

So, while Australians have a strong aversion to discussing money, it can be worthwhile. See how others live. See how much they spend and save. Hang out in Facebook groups like ‘Frugal Aussie Families’ and you’ll find another world out there.

Question the world’s beliefs – We get on a train of middle-class aspiration in our late teens, and get off it when we retire in our 60s or 70s. The conventions of this journey are that we work one job at a time, put money aside for retirement, buy as many things as we can, have the nicest house we can and spend as much on our kids as we can.

But not everyone has to stay on that train, or stick to its rules. Maybe we want to work two jobs, so we can save more and retire early. Maybe we don’t have to constantly ratchet up our lifestyles as our income grows – instead, we could save the surplus and pay off our debts earlier. Maybe we don’t have to upgrade our TVs, cars, phones or wardrobes as often as other people.

I’m not saying there is one right or wrong path. But there are definitely some things we could consider calling bullshit on.

There is a movement called FI/RE that is all about being frugal, building your net worth and retiring early with a decent income.  These people (and I’m one of them) reject the notion that you need to be working for the man for 50-odd years. They believe that re-engineering your life can give you more opportunities.

The go-to guy on this is called Mr Money Mustache, who retired at 30 (WTF) and writes a wildly popular blog, if you’re interested.

It sounds a bit out there, and you might not believe it all. But the point is that it can be helpful to question the conventional wisdom about money.

Question your goals – That is, if you  have financial goals. Many people have one immediate aim – such as saving for a home deposit, paying off a credit card or getting on top of the mortgage. But while that’s useful, it’s not necessarily enough.

Having short, medium and long-term goals is a better option. Not just vague intentions – but actual, thought-through goals, with a strategy to achieve them.

My goals (simplified for this post) look something like this:

  • Short-term: Fund an epic 2018 holiday with Gigi
  • Medium-term: pay off twice the minimum on my mortgage repayments so I can smash the interest costs; look at ways to leverage equity for investment purposes
  • Long-term: Have enough assets to cease full-time employment by age 55

Now obviously there are a shitload of variables that could derail those goals over time. But having them gives me a sense of purpose and helps me make decisions.

Question your influences – How do the people around you impact your money decisions?

In a financial sense, not being married has been a game changer for me. My ex-husband is a good guy and he works hard. But we had very different ideas about money (as many couples do). It was like being in a rowboat, each paddling in a different direction, with the result that we didn’t go anywhere.

But it’s not just your partner who plays a part. The way your friends spend money has a big impact too.

Firstly, there’s the practical choice of bars they want to go to or activities they choose to do, the ridiculous hen’s parties they make you pay for etc. In some cases you have to go along with these – while other times you can often suggest alternatives. In my experience, people usually welcome a tight-arse option!

But then there’s a more subtle influence. Sometimes it’s the desire to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ – having stuff that’s as good as theirs. But other times it’s a quiet, normalising influence. The notion that it’s normal to have new cars, to upgrade TVs, to get eyelash extensions, to buy daily coffees, or one of a thousand things that may in fact be a waste of money.

I’m not saying you should dump your friends! But maybe you can look critically at some of the things your social circle accepts as the norm. And don’t be afraid to do things differently.

So that’s my challenge to you this year. Think critically. Educate yourself on other perspectives and experiences. Go forth and be fierce!

Bad at saving money? Here’s why – and what to do about it

I got asked today ‘how do you have the discipline to diet?’.

Since I was eating a Bounty at that moment, I’m not sure why. (To be fair, it was a piece of someone else’s Bounty, so there are obviously no calories.)

My response was that it’s easier if you have a reason. In my case, it’s so I can compete in powerlifting in a lower weight class.

It’s the same with money. Another friend asked me, ‘What if you just can’t save?’. To which I answered the same thing: you need a reason.

AKA: a goal.

Goals, I know! So lame and hard and too much like adulting.

I’m not a massive goal-setter myself, but I have forced myself to create some clarity about where I’m going. So then I know how to get there.

Just before you get bored and switch off, let me offer you a gift. We’ll come back to it shortly.

Click here to download your printable A4 worksheet

Why do you need a worksheet?

So we can put the ‘plan’ into financial planning.

I know, a lot of people don’t trust financial planners. There are good and bad ones, just like any other profession. We’ve all had a hairdresser who takes ‘just a trim‘ and turns it into ‘radical hair makeover so you look like a lesbian biker‘. (Don’t get me wrong, I love lesbian bikers – I just don’t necessarily want their haircuts).

However, I’ve been having a conversation with a mate who’s a financial planner, and he messes with my head because he’s all about ‘plans’.

I would ask him ‘should I buy a property to live in or invest in’ and he was all like ‘well, what’s your plan?’.

I don’t know! I’m in my late 30s, divorced, childless. So far, all the ‘plans’ I made 10 years ago haven’t really turned out.

But that doesn’t mean I can get away without one. Without some goals, I don’t know where to put my money or how much to save.

And if you don’t know the destination, how will you know the how to get there?

Sometimes, choosing the destination is the hard bit

People often ask me about what to with their money. I can’t  tell them specifically (partly because I’m not licensed so it’s illegal). But I do ask them ‘what’s the goal’?.

Is it  saving enough for a property? Is it having enough to travel? Maybe it’s just being a bad-arse with a backpack and a round-the-world ticket (oh hey Betsy, how’s Iceland?).

Tactics are useless without a strategy. And a strategy is nothing without a goal.

If you’re  like me though, you find big life planning stuff daunting at best, terrifying at worst. But don’t worry, Fierce Girls, I got ya.

I came up with questions to help you create some clarity. And then I made a fucking worksheet! I know, I am crafty AF.

Doing the worksheet

Now, you can do this and not necessarily come up with a special number. You know, a savings goal or something. That’s a topic for another day.

But you will think critically about the factors that shape your decisions. So the questions in the worksheet are (and you can totally pick the timeframe that applies to you):

  • Where do you want to be __ years from now?
  • What things do you want to experience?
  • How will you spend your time? Who with?
  • What will you own?
  • What is a must-do or must-have?
  • What can you give up or cut back?
  • What is the ‘why’?

When I did this exercise, I came up with a general plan that I don’t want to be a full-time, salaried employee much past my mid-fifties. I want to write books and hold workshops and coach people and be generally useful. I also want to travel as much as possible.

So that means I have about 15 years to build wealth, take holidays, smash a mortgage and sock away superannuation. Scary huh?

It also means I can give up expensive cars, too many clothes, and general unnecessary ‘stuff’. When I am considering a purchase, my decision tree is something like ‘Could I better spend this money on my trip next year?’ or ‘Wouldn’t I be better to chuck this into my mortgage?’.

Of course I won’t be perfect. But I have a plan and sense of direction. And then everything else is easier from there. Try it yourself!

Next week: The Track Your Spend challenge: finding where your money goes and working out how to save more of it. Yep. I’m gonna make another worksheet. It will be amazing.

 

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