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The Fierce Girl's Guide to Finance

Get your shit together with money

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life

What I’ve learnt from a year of running a finance blog

Today is the first anniversary of The Fierce Girl’s Guide to Finance. Yay! I feel happy and proud about that.

It’s been fun, hasn’t it? If you’re new to Fierce Girl, thanks for coming here. If you’e a long-time follower, thanks for being on the ride.

This whole thing was born out of lunchtime session at work called ‘Get your shit together with money’, part of the now-defunct National MoneySmart Week (long story about why it was canned). Anyway, it was a bunch of passionate advocates for financial literacy trying to put it on the national agenda. I was the PR chick, working on it pro bono.

During MoneySmart Week, I ran a session telling people to roll over their super funds and explaining the wonders of compound interest. And guess what, they got really into it! Weird, I know.

Then my friend Mindy Gold dared me to start this site. She was originally my partner in crime, but selfishly went to live overseas. (With a decent pool of savings btw, because she’s a Fierce Girl.)

The Divorce Thing

The other element of this story is that I was going through a divorce. I’m amazed by how short that phrase is when you say it.

‘I got divorced’. It’s like ‘I got my hair done’.

In reality, it was a slow, painful unwinding and rebuilding.

From the day I decided to leave, until the day the financial settlement was agreed, three years went by. And that doesn’t include the time spent watching my marriage fall apart. I’d say the last five years of my life have been spent in the strange, murky land of relationship failure.

I don’t say this to elicit sympathy, but to provide context. I’ve learnt many things from the process, some of which I’ve written about here and here. But the mistakes I made about money during my relationship, and the important role it played in allowing me to leave, have fueled my passion for this issue.

Put simply:

If you don’t control your money, you don’t control your life.

This is why it breaks my heart to see women hand over control to a partner, or to the universe. The attitude of ‘oh, I’m so bad with money but, haha, aren’t I adorably helpless‘ is still far too common.

Nobody is perfect with money. We all make bad decisions from time to time. But we need to remember who’s in the driver’s seat.

Not your credit card, not The Iconic, not the hipster-bearded bartender, and most certainly not your significant other. You, and you alone. (And maybe me, a little bit, haha).

Getting the basics right is hard – and important

When you hang out in the finance industry, you think everyone cares about whether your fund has beat the benchmark. And if you don’t know what that means, don’t worry – you’re not alone.

Finance people live in a bubble of complexity, products and jargon. Most regular people don’t care about alpha (which is how much an investment outperforms the benchmark, if you’re wondering).

They want to know how to pay off their credit card debt. Or to spend less on groceries. Or to have more money left before payday.

While I love explaining economics and investments, the readership stats for those posts are relatively low. My most-viewed post of all time is … wait for it … about bank accounts.

Turns out, how to structure your banking is far more interesting than the ingredients of Gross Domestic Product.  But the people running the banks and investment companies of the world don’t understand this. It’s taken me a year to fully appreciate it.

And that’s why so many people switch off and fall asleep when it comes to finance companies selling them stuff.

Success flows where attention goes

That sounds a little Tony Robbins, I know. But what I mean is that, since I’ve been thinking about money and finances and budgets A LOT in the last year, I’ve become way better at all those things. When you focus on something, you get better at it. Who knew!

My budgets are less liable to blow-outs, I feel confident about meeting my financial goals, and I feel comfortable about spending money on something if I’ve mindfully allocated funds to it.

I feel more in control, more confident and more optimistic. And that’s the goal, right?

Plus, I guess I have to really practice what I preach. Don’t want the paparazzi snapping me in the Jimmy Choo store.

At some point, you just have to back yourself

For someone in PR, I have a weird aversion to promoting myself.

But I have to remember I’m on a mission: to help you all take control of your money, give yourself choices and live your best lives. And a mission needs an appropriate level of bad-arse bravery and hustle.

So , as I enter Year Two of the blog, I’m getting serious. Site redesign, e-book launch, PR blitz – the lot!

If you love what I do, please be an advocate. Share things you find useful. Send me your feedback. Sign up for emails. And tell me when you’ve had Fierce Girl wins!

We are all in this together, fighting, dollar by dollar, to own the world and everything it has to offer.

So, go forth and be Fierce! And remember…

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

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