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The Fierce Girl's Guide to Finance

Get your shit together with money

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resolutions

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!

New year, new you: how to up your game this financial year

If I ran a fitness blog, I’d have to wait til January 1 to share good intentions and resolutions with you. Luckily for me, this is a finance blog and I can do it now.

It also requires no activewear or bikini shots, which is a relief, because I have been hitting the red wine and winter comfort food a little too hard.

So, while I commit to no booze and lots of tuna salads for the foreseeable future, you could commit to a few good habits for FY18/19.

Change one bad money habit – It doesn’t have to be outrageously ambitious. You don’t have to makeover your entire financial life. It just needs to be specific and actionable.

For example, you want to control your spending better. My friend Cara gets paid monthly and has a bad habit of ‘making it rain’ the first week, like Drake giving money to poor people. Then she lives like a monk the week before payday.

If you have a similar issue, your goal is to set a weekly spending budget. Look at how much your normally spend (I know: a painful yet necessary step in and of itself. But get out your bank statements and come clean with yourself).

Decide what’s an appropriate ‘discretionary’ budget – lunches, nights out, new shoes, Priceline sales etc. This should be close to what you already spend, otherwise you’re not going to stick to it. Maybe trim a cool 10-20% off it, but don’t go for the diet equivalent of Optifast shakes when you’re used to 2000 calories a day. Now, take that figure and divide by 4. Simples!

Then it’s a matter of putting in place the mechanism for sticking to the weekly budget. Perhaps you get that much cash out, then you see how much is left. Perhaps you have a separate account with weekly auto-transfers of the set amount. Maybe you check your bank account every few days and see if you’re tracking.

Whatever works for you, find a way to put boundaries in place, and automate some of it.

All of this advice is clearly not rocket science. I’m no behavioural psychologist. It’s about intention, action and habit.

Decide what to change, think about a solution, then make it as easy as possible to keep up the habit.

Check out my homeboy James Clear if you want to know more about changing habits – he is the guru.

Other bad money habits you might want to overhaul:

  • Paying too much for convenience: unplanned and expensive groceries, too much Uber Eats, buying a full price dress for a wedding next week etc.
  • Wasting food: throwing out what’s in your fridge, not putting it away properly in the first place, forgetting to eat leftovers – you know the drill. Make a plan, use your freezer and buy some Tupperware FridgeSmarts
  • Dipping into savings for everyday money – you need to re-do your budget, set a mindful spending manifesto, and get an account with a different bank that’s harder to access

Sort your superannuation once and for all – I know, I go on about super and it’s everyone’s least favourite topic. But how about you spend an hour or so on it now, and have thousands more when you retire in a few decades?

I have a deep-dive post about it here, but in short, there are a few basic things that make all the difference:

  1. Find your lost super – That crappy retail job you had for six months? You probably have a super fund for it. If you’ve had more than a couple of jobs there’s a good chance you have a tiny little super balance from it, sitting around in the ATO’s accounts, doing nothing. Get hold of it and put it to work! Some tips here.
  2. Ask your super fund to roll your accounts into one – Your main super fund probably wants to do this lost super thing for you – they often have a rollover service to find your multiple accounts and sweep it into your main one. Let them do the hard work!
  3.  Check your insurance – We get given life insurance without asking – but that doesn’t mean it’s either the right amount or free! Check what you’re covered for, if it’s too much or not enough, and how much it costs. I have a really exciting post about this here (because, let’s face it, the only thing more exciting than super is super AND insurance!).
  4. Review your investment option – Chances are, you’re in the same investment strategy as that 50-year-old bloke on the train wearing a too-tight shirt. Which isn’t ideal if you’re young. As a general rule, younger savers can tolerate more risk for higher returns (they have longer to smooth out the ups and downs). Most super funds will be able to give you advice on what’s right for you. Personally, I will be in high-growth until about the time I need to get botox.

Get a better deal on your boring bills – Once a year, it pays to go through all those dull fixed costs and see if you can cut them down. Are you in the right health fund? Who knows – do some Googling, or call one of those iSelect, ComparetheMarket type services.

Could you be getting a better deal on your phone? Probably, if you’re not already on a contract. They bring out better and cheaper plans all the time, so it’s worth shopping around. The tight-arse circles I hang out in online have  been raving about Kogan.com.au – not an endorsement from me, but can’t hurt to look.

Same goes for your car insurance, power bills and any other painful ongoing cost. Spend a bit of time once a year, and reap the rewards.

Learn about basic investment and finance concepts – Obviously being on this site is a great start. If you’re relatively new here, this post is a good primer.

But if you’ve put off ‘understanding compound interest’ to another day, that day is today.

If you’ve ever thought ‘I’ll look into share investments at some point’, that point is now.

If you’ve pondered ‘how much will I need to retire on?’, then it’s time to do some research.

A great resource is the government-funded http://www.moneysmart.gov.au – it’s designed by financial literacy experts so that anyone can understand it. And it covers a huge range of topics.

And that’s it.

Gosh that was a lot of information for a wintry Sunday morning huh? But you only have to do one thing to make a difference.

And none of those things require diet, exercise or bikini body transformations. So how good is that?

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!

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