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The Fierce Girl's Guide to Finance

Get your shit together with money

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saving

I don’t mean to alarm you but it’s nearly f@*#king Christmas!

Ladies, this is not a drill. There are only seven shopping weekends left until Christmas.

Maybe you’re the type of girl who excitedly starts playing Mariah Carey at the first hint of festivities.

Maybe you’re a cynic who likes mince pies but dreads the consumerist orgy of yuletide.

Maybe you hate the enforced family proximity of holiday season.

But no matter where you fall on the Grinchometer, you can’t avoid Christmas (ok, maybe if you’re Muslim or Jewish or Hindu. But even then, you probably still watch Love Actually and eat a box of Favourites).

Nor can you avoid the financial pressures that the season brings. Not only are there all the gifts to buy, there are other sneaky costs.

The extra social events are a big one – not all of them include free booze from your work, so you end up eating out and drinking more.

Then there are extra party season outfits, accessories and salon trips. (It’s my birthday in December too, so the pressure is on).

And of course there are holidays themselves, and all the expense of going away, if you’re lucky enough to do that. I only have to hang out at my cousin’s place in WA but that bitch is gonna make me get drunk and buy wine in Margaret River, I guarantee.

So this is a short post, but with some important take-aways:

  • Start planning and buying gifts NOW – there are no sales in December, friends (until it’s too late, on boxing day). So try and start looking for bargains now, or at least space out your purchases so it’s not one big shitfight for your cashflow. Then check out different vendors to see has the cheapest version. Don’t just wander into Myer and hope for the best. A new release book, for example, can be $40 in one store and $20 in another. Do your research.
  • Make a list of people to buy for and what you’re getting them – and do it before you hit the shops. It will stop you panicking and buying too much or the wrong thing, in a moment of exhaustion or panic.
  • Have a conversation with your family NOW to set limits and expectations – if you’re feeling the pinch financially, now’s the time to fess up. Say to mum and dad and siblings ‘hey, I have some savings goals, can we put a limit on gifts this year?’ Or do the kris kringle thing. What you’ll often find is that when one person tries to de-escalate the gift war, other people are relieved.
  • Make a special ‘Festive Season’ mindful spending manifesto – this is an exercise where you think seriously about where to allocate your spending (read more here). In this season, it’s easy to get sucked into a whole bunch of costs, as mentioned above. So have a talk with yourself about where to scrimp and where to save. If you choose to splash out on gifts, then put that party dress back on the rack. Want to buy French champagne? Then tone down the seafood platter you bring on Christmas Day. You get my drift – the key is not to start spending, and then think ‘oh well I’m screwed now, let’s keep going’. Go in strategically and be a tight-arse on some things. Like, I promise not to buy any new Christmas lights. Well, maybe just one set…

Of course I would tell you not to smash the credit card too hard, but you know that. And you’re going to do it or not, regardless of my lecture. But hopefully the tips above can help you limit the damage.

So, have a great party season and get cracking on your festive dance routines!

By the way, as a bonus, this is a message I got this week from my above-mentioned cousin. You can see where I got my thrifty habits…

1 science truthbomb and 3 ways it will help you save money

Do you ever find that when you’re being ‘good’ with your diet, you’re really good in the morning. No muffins for me!

Pretty good at lunch. I’ll take the sushi instead of the schnitzel thanks.

And by 3pm? If I open the work pantry and there happen to be TimTams, it’s not my fault if they fall into my mouth.

Well, you’re not alone my friend. There is a real scientific concept called decision fatigue.

From the moment we wake up, we’re forced to make all these small decisions. What to wear, what to eat, when to leave, how long to spend on Instagram.

And this literally drains our brains of power.

In fact, a study on this topic found that judges hearing parole cases were more likely to grant parole in the morning, when they were fresh and unfatigued. When they got tired and cranky, it was easier just to say ‘no, go back to jail’.

The one variable was that straight after lunch, they perked up and started saying yes more. Until TimTam o’clock, that is.

There’s a really cool article about it here if you’re interested. One of my faves, James Clear, also has a great post.

But the take-outs for me, in relation to money, were three-fold.

1. Don’t shop at night – I’m as fond of a Thursday night jaunt as the next girl. But if you’re tired and over work, there’s a good chance you’ll make questionable decisions about what to buy.

Of course, we may have shopping emergencies (who doesn’t?). But in general, try and save your shopping sprees for a weekend morning, or at least a lunch break after you’ve eaten. Much better chance of buying something you actually need and like.

Similarly, cruising the ASOS or Iconic websites in front of the TV might not be the best habit if you’re trying to save money.

Maybe just limit yourself to filling your shopping cart but not hitting the checkout til the next day. You’ll feel differently in the morning – I very rarely make a purchase in this scenario.

2. Sometimes a ban is easier than moderation – If you’re trying to make decisions about whether to buy something, and you’ve already made a bunch of choices that day, it’s pretty easy to say ‘bugger it, spend the money’.

But what about if it’s not even an option? No decision required in that case.

If I’m trying to save money, I ban myself from shopping for a month. I also find it easier for losing weight. For instance, if I have to try and weigh up whether to have a wine, I usually go with yes.

But if I just say ‘no booze in October’, then I don’t expend energy trying to justify it.

I get that not everyone works like this (the rebels among us). Some people just need to break a rule as soon as they impose it.

So, my friend Jo said that when she moved to being a vegetarian, she gave herself a ‘once a week’ option of eating meat. She didn’t end up using it much, but was comforted by that slice of freedom.

So maybe it’s not a shopping ban – instead, it’s ‘I can buy one piece of clothing this month’. And you may not even find anything. But the rebel in you will feel ok about not being told what to do.

3 . Automate the shit out of everything – One of the most important parts of achieving financial security is to pay yourself first. In other words, put your savings aside in a nicely inaccessible account as soon as you get paid.

Do you ever spend the weeks after payday going out, buying lunches, hitting the shops and all that cool stuff, and then seeing how much you have left over to save? If so, the odds are it’s a big fat zero.

So try and automate things like saving and paying bills. Have a direct debit into various accounts. Check out this post for some tips on how to structure your bank accounts – boring but possibly life-changing!

So there are three things that science can help you with, and they apply to other good behaviours too. One of the reasons I food prep like a boss (some of my tips here) is that it takes away the need to decide. You don’t have to weigh up healthy or unhealthy, expensive or cheap. You just eat your darn curry and shut up. It’s strangely liberating, I promise!

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!

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?

Gone a little crazy with spending? Here’s how to get back on track

Being good with money is like being good with your diet. Damn hard to do all the time.

(And easy to get annoyed with those freaks who are).

Another similarity is that they are both money and spending are easy to get carried away with, then spiral into disaster.

Like when you eat some birthday cake at work in the morning. And then figure you may as well eat a burrito for lunch. And then the day is buggered, so you might as well have three wines and a bowl of wedges. Then a burger.

I know, that sounds like an awesome and delicious day. But we all know it ends in guilt and shame by the time we go to bed  a little drunk.

Money is the same. When things get a bit out of control, it’s easy to let them get even more out of control. And the more it gets away from you, the more depressing it is, so you might as well treat yo’self.

But no! Don’t!

We don’t have to let a few bad decisions derail our good habits.

Just because you accidentally fell into Kookai and bought a dress, doesn’t mean you need to buy matching shoes. And just because your credit card is close to being maxed, it doesn’t mean you may as well hit the limit anyway.

So, here are some friendly tips to help you get out of the shame spiral, when things get a little cray-cray in financial department.

  • Check your bank statements – Sounds simple, I know. But just like I have a deep aversion to opening mail (because it always requires subsequent admin), it’s tempting to keep the banking app closed and invisible.

    Maybe you need to rope in a friend or partner here – but the key is to just dive in and check the damage. Let’s be honest, it’s always better to know what you’re working with, rather than have a vague number rattling around your head. And hey, there are always rewards: knock yourself out with a Tim-Tam after you’ve done it.

  • Identify the culprits – You usually have a good idea of what’s causing blowouts. Either too much shopping, too much going out or indulging in whatever hobby/collection/sport you love. But it’s really useful to have a bit of a reckoning, where you go through the above-mentioned bank statement and face the reality of ‘I spent how much on booze last Friday night?‘. Because then you’re ready for the next step.
  • Work out what’s going on in your head – What’s driving these blowouts? Is it a response to stress at work or home? Are you distracting yourself from some relationship shit? Are you partying a lot because you’re nearly 40 and your youth is quickly slipping away (asking for a friend…).

    It may be that when you’re honest with yourself, you can look for other ways to deal with the issue you’re avoiding. Do some yoga. Get some therapy. Tell your boss/partner to fuck off. Whatever works! But until you get to the root cause, it could be hard to sort your money out.

  • Get clear on your goals – I always find it hard to be disciplined if I don’t have a clear goal -whether it’s getting bikini-ready for Mexico (an actual thing that’s happening – yay!), or hitting a savings goal (money for said trip).

    If you’re drifting from your good behaviour, it’s time to refocus on your goals – whether they are short, medium or long-term. (And if you don’t know, check out this post).

    You should also review if those goals are working for you – if they’re too far away, you can lose track. If they’re too unrealistic, same deal. Make sure your goals are SMART if you want them to work hard for you: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, Timebound.

    Once you have an idea of where you’re going, it’s much easier to stay on the journey.

Remember,  you don’t have to perfect with money (or anything, actually). But you do need to believe you can do better, even just a bit better, at any given time.

Did you know that you’re actually awesome and talented and empowered and enlightened and fierce AF? You just need to believe it. And work up the courage to open your banking app…

Good luck Fierce Girls!

What’s your legacy – and how will money shape it?

One of the things we all struggle with is finding the right motivation to do things better.

Making good decisions with your money is hard.

There are so many fun things to spend it on. The Wittner sale! A Shellac manicure! A new handbag! All nice things, I’ll agree. (And all things I have been known to ‘invest’ in).

But if we are to build true wealth, we can’t just buy nice things.

We need to think about the kind of life we’re building. What we want to do, how we want to live, what we want to achieve.

Because money shouldn’t be about what you can own; it should be about what you can do.

A big part of this is what I call ‘Mindful Spending’ – which you can read more about here. But you can also go bigger with your thinking.

What’s your legacy?

I started a new job a couple of months ago, and my first pay was not only more than a month’s worth, it included a nice payrise. I gave myself a month to go a little nuts with it. I called it the ‘month of spending’.

One of the greatest enjoyments I had was taking out people I love and picking up the cheque.

Then I made a ridiculously large order at Dan Murphy’s so that my cocktail cabinet is ready for guests who enjoy Martinis, Old-fashioned’s or Negronis. (I may be partial to those myself, from time to time).

In general, I’ve set up my place with a comfy lounge, a fancy air mattress and good pillows, so that all my friends and family can come stay in the city when they want to. Do I encourage/enable them to go out and have big nights in Surry Hills? Possibly.

Anyway, I’m not telling you this to make you think I’m a good person, or to make you come over to my place (but hey, you’re totally welcome). The point is that money is making me happy, by making other people happy.

If I thought about what I would like to be remembered for one day, I don’t want people to say ‘Belinda had a great collection of boots’ (although, admittedly, I do).

I want them to say ‘Bo was always up for an impromptu cocktail party at her place’. Or maybe, ‘Remember that time she danced on the stage at Arq/in the cage at Stonewall/on the podium at Carmen’s’. (Admittedly, that last one was circa 1998).

So maybe this is a really long way of saying that making memories is just as important as making money.

Finding your why

I understand that not everyone wants to be remembered for their willingness to dance in public. But I’m sure you have an idea of how you want to impact other people’s lives.

I’m not advocating that you spend on other people before yourself. Like the oxygen masks on the plane, fix your own financial situation before anyone else’s. But do with an eye for how it impacts others.

Here are some questions you might ask yourself, when you’re trying to get serious about not wasting money:

  • How does my spending affect other people around me, either positively or negatively?
  • Do my current spending choices make feel good? How good? What would make them feel even better?
  • Am I setting myself up for positive opportunities down the track? Or is my spending focused on short-term sugar hits?

Sometimes, it’s good to take a step back and think about the bigger picture.

And hopefully, it will be one more motivator to make good decisions with your money.

 

 

Are these 4 spending traps blowing your budget?

There’s a curious thing about modern, middle-class life. We can afford things. We have money to spend. But we’re not very good at it.

Sure, we have to cover the boring bills and housing costs. But someone with a decent income has a bit of flex left in their budget. The dilemma is deciding what to do with it.

I’ve been thinking about this lately. How do we know if we can afford something?

Or more accurately, how do we decide what we can afford?

It’s more complicated than it sounds. Humans are notoriously bad with delayed gratification. So, when we’re deciding how to allocate our money, we often choose what’s right in front of us.

Shiny things, fun things, easy things!

In a perfect world of financial responsibility, we wouldn’t go shopping or to the pub until we’d put extra money into our savings,  our mortgage, or investments. But life is not perfect, nor are we.

But I have a theory that the key to building wealth is saying, “I know I can afford this, but should I?”.

There are some common spending traps that we should be conscious of in life. We would do well to notice, pause and reflect on these … before we get out our wallets.

Emotional spending

Maybe most spending is emotional. We have a vision of our lives that we’re trying to fulfill. To look a certain way, present a certain way, create a certain story about ourselves.

But there is also a particular type of emotional spending that’s a response to a situation. It’s called retail therapy, and it’s bullshit.

Therapy is a positive process that makes you face your feelings and deal with them. Shopping is just avoiding those feelings.

Spending to soothe your pain – or at least delay it – is a trap.

(I’m not saying I haven’t done it, but I will say I have I ended up with poorly fitting outfits.)

Solution? Process your emotions, rather than avoiding them. Call a friend, go for a run, hit the gym (my personal favourite). Maybe even go to real therapy (seriously – it’s great – I wrote about it here).

Mindless/lazy spending

This is my hobby horse, so get ready for a rant.

If you’re spending fifty bucks a week buying lunch, because you can’t haul your arse into a supermarket, then it’s time to reassess your life choices.

It’s not about having time, it’s about having priorities.  I’m not saying you need to spend hours in the kitchen every night. Commit a short period of time to even the most half-hearted food prep, and you’ll thank yourself. (I gotchu fam – tips here and here).

Same goes for spending too much at the pub/cocktail bar, because it’s a habit and your friends do it and you can’t think of anything else to do that’s cheaper or more satisfying.

Look, everyone likes a night out, but if it’s your default, then maybe have think about the habits you’re forming.

Solution: Work out where your downfall is, and how much time or effort you need to fix it. It may be less than you think.

Routine spending

It’s easy to think something is necessary because you do it a lot. But it just means you’ve set your baseline at a particular level: regular salon sessions, eyelash extensions, getting your hair done every six weeks, or whatever recurring cost has become part of your routine.

I was convinced that one-on-one coaching every week was definitely necessary and justified. But having stopped it this year, it turns out, it’s not. I love my coach, but do I have other financial priorities right now? Yes. (Am I a good enough powerlifter to justify the cost of coaching? No)

Solution: I’m not saying you shouldn’t treat yourself. I’m saying to think about what you have normalised in your life, and whether it’s serving you well.

Social-pressure spending

The social pressure of money is a real thing.

People don’t like to say ‘I can’t afford that’. There’s a perceived shame in noting the lofty financial expectations people place on others.

So you either find money for things, or whack it on credit cards.

Hen’s weekend that’s gonna cost 300 bucks? Suck it up and pay.

Friday night drinks that cost $50 a round? Deal with it.

Group birthday present for $100 each? Sign me up.

And before you know it, the budget is blown.

Solution: Generosity is good, but you don’t have to get on board the crazy-cost-train every time you’re asked. If you have a financial goal you’re working to, make it known. “Sorry, I’ve got some aggressive savings goals for my house deposit. Can we look at some other options, or I will do my own thing”.

Real friends will be chill about that. Shallow friends can eat a bag of dicks.

Set yourself up for success

Look, I know this stuff isn’t always easy. The first step is being clear on your goals – it’s easier to say no if you know the reason. I highly recommend working on your goals (here) and mindful spending manifesto (here).

Then you’ll be set up for success when it comes to saying no, or not today, or not ever.

Four steps to save money, cut waste and be hotter

Ok, maybe not hotter, but definitely healthier.

Yep, I’m here to talk meal prep.

‘Wow, that looks healthy’ is a standard refrain from people in the kitchen at work when I get out my food. They say it with a sense of envy or wistfulness (or maybe just relief that they don’t have to eat it). But overall, people act like making a daily tuna salad is some feat of adulting that’s beyond them.

I’m here to change your mind on that. If you really want to take control of your grocery bill and your diet, meal planning is the not-so-magic bullet.

Moreover,  if you buy lunch at work even a couple of times a week, that’s $1000 a year at least.

I thought everyone knew how to do this whole menu planning thing, but my friend Linda told me it’s a bit of a dark art to her.

So, here I give you the step-by-step guide to meal-prepping like a boss. A ladyboss, of course.

1. Gather your recipes, grab a coffee and write a list

Pick a recipe book, website or Pinterest board and have a browse. This might sound fancy – i.e. researching recipes – but it keeps you interested in meals and gives you new ideas.

You can still put your staples in the week’s meal plan (mince and veg sauce is a firm fixture on mine). But throw in a few new things, and you’ll feel like Nigella fucking Lawson.

Add in a Kikki K planner for maximum smugness

(Life pro tip: e-books on your iPad mean you can take a few recipe books to your favourite cafe. This one is Well-fed 2 by Melissa Joulwan, one of my fave paleo books. I also like Pete Evans’ Healthy Every Day, despite him being a massive tool).

Writing a list is where you start to make savings. By buying just what you need, instead of stuff that kinda looks useful or tasty as you wander the shops, you will avoid wasted food.

I split my list into three sections – fresh food, supermarket aisles, meat/chicken/fish – for easy nagivation.

 2. Buy the things on your list but be flexible

I shop at Harris Farm a lot, and they have an awesome section of cheap, marked-down meats that need to be cooked or frozen in the next day or two. This is ideal for meal-prep nerds, because I’m cooking most of it in one day. But of course, it depends on what’s available, so I will often change my meal plan to use those ingredients.

Similarly, if you make a plan that uses, say, avocado, and those bastards are $7 each (a real thing I saw yesterday), then good sense dictates that you ditch or amend that recipe.

3. Put your stuff away properly

I’ve sung the praises of Tupperware’s fridge range in a previous post. They are the key to avoiding the curse of  soggy celery and wrinkled capsicum. However, they don’t work if you leave them empty in the pantry.

I wash and dry the fresh things, then put them in my Tupperware. If you are a loser and don’t have any, buy some special stay-fresh bags or read these tips. (Or ask me to hook you up with my Tupperware lady). Food waste is a killer for the planet and your pocket, so making a bit of an effort makes a big difference.

Note my awesome vintage Tupperware lettuce keeper from an op-shop.

3. Set aside a food prep time and get cracking

I devote Sunday afternoon to food prep. I totally understand if you have lives and kids and obligations; not everyone can do it all the time. But creating a routine like this, even  including the kids in it, is the only way to make this work.

It’s a matter of investing time on Sunday to reap the rewards for the rest of the week.

As I said to a boy on Tinder who “didn’t have time” meet me after a couple of months’ chat, “I don’t believe in having time, I believe in having priorities”. (He was actually really surprised/upset. Next!).

Chicken curry on the go

It can take a while to get the hang of what order to cook things in, and it makes an unholy mess in the kitchen. But the end result is worth it.

If you’re  keen for some detailed guidance, check out the Meal Prep Sunday thread on Reddit or this post from its creator.

4. Cool and store all your cooking

Finding room in the fridge is the hardest part of this. I have an extensive Tupperware collection and end up playing Tetris with it (sorry, will stop mentioning the T-word). But if you don’t, that’s ok, the old snap-lock bags work a treat too (try and reuse them where you can).

If your fridge doesn’t look like this, who even are you?

I’ve been freezing more stuff lately, so I can rotate dishes through the week. One thing I struggle with sometimes is ‘Day 4 Syndrome’: when you can’t stomach one more of that chicken curry after four days in a row. So the freezer is helping with that.

And that’s basically it. Stop buying lunches, save money, avoid food waste, be healthy and maybe even get  skinnier (if that’s what you want, and if you don’t, that’s totally fine and good on you for your self-love).

Some realtalk about buying property – and how to get it done

I’ve changed my mind about something. Something important.

I’ve said on this blog before that if you don’t buy your own home to live in, it’s not the end of the world. As long as you choose some other way to build your wealth, you don’t have to freak out about not getting on the property ladder.

And financially speaking, that holds true.

But I think I missed something important: human emotion.

Having just settled into the new apartment I bought, I realised I’d been denying something to myself. I like having my own ‘patch of dirt’. It fulfils a deep human desire to be settled and to feel some control over my destiny.

This feeling was compounded by the dramas of trying to get my bond back. The exit cleaners didn’t do a good enough job, so I found myself Gumptioning walls in my lunch hour.

A detail was missed in my ingoing condition report, so I was accused of leaving holes in a wall. And then there was the threat to make me pay for an electrician to change a light bulb that was out.

I fought tooth and nail, and in the end they only withheld $8.80 for said light bulb. But it reminded me of the way the cards are stacked against renters in this country, along with short leases and pet bans.

So, this is my advice for the yet-to-be-homeowners. Do everything you can to get your foot onto the first rung of the property ladder.

It might take a while, and it might mean making sacrifices, but it’s one of the most important things you can do with your money.

“But wait”, I hear you say. “I’ll never afford a property in this crazy market”.

And if you’re in the very lowest income band, that may be the case. But for someone earning  decent (or even ok) money, especially early in your career, it’s totally possible.  And here are three ways you can go about it.

Rentvesting – There are two hard parts of buying a property to live in. Scraping up the deposit and then repaying the loan (known in the industry as ‘servicing’).

If you go down the route of buying where you can afford and renting where you want to live, you remove that second challenge by having rental income.

If you live in Sydney or Melbourne, being a first home buyer is really bloody hard. There aren’t really any bargain suburbs left, even on the outskirts.

But if you look elsewhere, median house prices look far more manageable. Perhaps it’s just out of town, like the Central Coast or the Bellarine Peninsula. Or it might be regional, such as Wagga Wagga or Ballarat. Or a smaller capital city such as Hobart or Adelaide.

I am not giving you hot tips on all of these as investment property destinations. I’m simply naming places where you can pick up a house for the price of a small garage in Sydney.

How do you work out where to buy? Well you can do a ton of research yourself, looking at the supply and demand drivers. Talk to people in the area. Visit it for yourself.

Or you can work with professionals whose job it is to research these things, and provide recommendations.

I am most definitely NOT talking about the guys who try and spruik you an off-the-plan development in the outskirts of a holiday town.

No, I’m talking about real professionals whom you pay for their services. Like any such adviser, choose carefully, look at their results with other clients and use your bullshit detector. But for the clueless or nervous, this can be a useful way to avoid buying a dog of an investment in a far-flung place.

Family Guarantees – This approach works where you have the ability to service a loan (i.e. a decent income) but trouble saving a sizeable deposit. Your parents can use the equity in their own home to act in place of a deposit. Say you have 5% saved for a $500,000 property, but need 20%. They promise to cover the missing 15% if anything goes wrong and you default on the mortgage.

This is different to just getting a lump sum gift from the parentals (let’s admit, that’s the dream solution). It means they don’t have to actually come up with the cash (unless things go wrong – see below).

Of course there are risks involved. The biggest is that you default and the lender demands some or all of that money your parents promised. Some lenders also require the guarantor (i.e. your folks) to cover the mortgage repayments if you fall behind yourself.

And lenders will generally require the parents to get independent legal advice before going ahead, so that’s an additional cost.

You’ll still need to prove your ability to save and be a responsible adult – lenders want to see proof of ‘genuine savings’. But family guarantees can get you into your own place sooner and avoid the cost of Lenders Mortgage Insurance (which banks hit you with if you have less than a 20% deposit).

Play the long game – Maybe it’s going to take you five or ten years to cobble enough together for a home. But in the Monopoly game of life, that’s not actually very long. If you live to 85 that’s less than 10% of your life!

It drives me nuts when I hear people say things like ‘well I’ll never afford to own property so I’ll just spend my money and enjoy myself’.

No! Just because you can’t afford it now, doesn’t mean you can’t ever afford it.

First of all, there’s the power of compound interest: 10 years of slow and steady socking away will actually see you get some free money in there too.

Secondly, just because you earn this much now doesn’t mean you will forever. You can climb the ladder, increase your education, change career, start a side hustle, marry money … ok scrap that last one. But seriously, there is always an opportunity to do more, be more and earn more than you do now. So don’t rule out a big goal.

The hardest part in a long game is staying motivated. If your timeline is five years, saying no to another overseas trip or buying clothes from Kmart instead of Lorna Jane can get old real quick.

So, don’t be afraid to do things like set SMART goals, make a vision board (as cheesy as it sounds) and track your progress regularly. Hey, maybe even ‘treat yoself’ to a reasonably priced reward when you hit milestones.

I have a plan to pay off my mortgage in 12-15 years (depending on what interest rates do), so some of this stuff will be going on in my little world.

I have specific and aggressive retirement goals, and this is what will keep me from making poor decisions about money.

I’ll never give up martinis, but will I drop twenty bucks on them in a fancy bar? Hell to the no! (I will totally make them at home.)

Oh hey, homemade martini!

That’s because I have done the numbers on repayments, and I know that paying an extra $250 a month can cut five years off my mortgage. And then I think about not having to get up and schlep to an office five days a week, because I’m doing my own semi-retired thing, and it motivates me!

So, my message to you is: don’t despair! With a clear goal and some good behaviours, you too will one day have the pleasure of telling your property manager to get fucked. (Note: this only happened in my head, not out loud).

 

 

 

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