Let’s not beat around the bush. School taught us a lot of things, but how to master our financial lives was not one of them. We are not a generation that shies away from taboo topics for the sake of protecting archaic social norms. We want to share the lessons from our financial mistakes and triumphs so collectively we can catapult our global money game to new healing heights.
Even though people, planet and purses feel more fragile than ever before, financial sustainability and fulfilment is not an impossibility. The meaningful contribution you can make by being conscientious citizens and consciously caring for your money also offers a calm and centred space from which you can embark on life with renewed confidence.
Yes, you have heard it all before, change is inevitable. But the foundations that create a financially sustainable and fulfilling life remain the same. Master these foundations first before you explore any shiny new share or property investment strategy.
1. Make your money stand for something
Think carefully about how you use your money and what it says about you. Does choosing to spend less than you earn make you stingy? Or are you making a stand for financial sustainability, self-care and caring for those you love?
What matters most to you? You decide, then put your financial resources behind it, whether it’s nourishing food for your family, being able to contribute meaningfully to the causes closest to your heart, the security of your homely sanctuary or your business. You may have heard the saying “don’t tell me what you value, show me your bank statements”.
One of the most profound money realisations is knowing that it isn’t what you earn that counts, but how you use it — so spend and save consciously.
2. Do an expense autopsy
Find out exactly what you are spending your money on and then dig deep, particularly into your ongoing plans. Separate the fixed and variable components of your contracts like electricity and mobile phone plans, the daily charge with the usage charge, so you can compare plans to find the best value and know how you can engage with these services in the cheapest way possible.
Uncover why you buy what you do and from who. Is spending an extra $10k for a hybrid car an investment? A contribution to the climate crisis? Or does it put your financial wellbeing at risk? It is important to be conscious about your consumer choices but also to balance their impact on people, the planet and your purse.
3. Feed your mind and choose your tools wisely
Humans aren’t particularly rational creatures when it comes to money. This can make you vulnerable to impulsive financial decisions and to terrible investment advice. You must invest in feeding your mind with credible and independent financial information and be vigilant to disregard the dodgy distractions.
Choose your own money management tools that play to your strengths; go old school with pen and paper, unleash your spreadsheet superhero, or try a free app like TrackMySpend or PocketBook.
4. Challenge the status quo
Most of your money decisions are shaped by your childhood experiences, parents, friends and the media, which influences your definition of success, failure and fulfilment. Make sure you are not unconsciously buying into someone else’s dream house, lifestyle, holiday and career choices.
Even though interest rates are at record lows and owning your home still feels like an impossible dream, is it really your dream?
Even if you could afford it, is it the best decision for your family? Renting can give you flexibly as your family grows. Renting is great if you travel regularly and makes moving for the right school, job or experience easier. Remember that a family makes a house a home regardless of if you rent or buy.
5. Don’t owe anyone anything
There are no two ways about it; having high interest or high fee debt is a disaster. If you don’t have the money to buy something, don’t buy it. Remember you are in charge and there is boldness in being able to back away.
See owning a credit card as a reflection of your genuine and exceptional self-discipline skills and forget Afterpay and payday lenders. They make it incredibly easy to lose track of your spending and fall prey to the manipulative power of marketing. Finding yourself tangled in what seems like a never-ending jungle of debt is unfortunately a common story; choose to not make it yours.
If you have high interest or high fee debt, then make it your mission to eliminate it as quickly as possible. Start with the highest interest/fee debt first. It doesn’t make sense to earn two per cent on your money in a bank account when you are being charged 18 per cent for your debt. Particularly in times of uncertainty, you will multiply your options by diminishing your debts.
A remedy for debt is using cash (or debit card) to keep your spending on track. This should include an amount that honours and accommodates your inner spontaneous shopper so you can have a satisfying splurge that doesn’t cause a hangover of intense anxiety.
6. Save in the name of self-sustainability
Build up a “just in case” fund to protect your peace in the face of job loss and sickness. Ideally you will want to build up enough savings to cover three to six months of expenses for your rent or mortgage, groceries and electricity. This may seem like a lot of money, so start small with $1000 in the bank to cover routine emergencies like car repairs and then build it up. Keep this in a high-interest account even though the rates are low at the moment. You need to be able to access it easily when you need it.
So before you start contemplating the more complex questions of property, stocks and the world of macroeconomics, master these six money lessons and don’t underestimate how powerful they will be in enabling you to peacefully coexist alongside the daily uncertainties of the job and financial markets.
Liz McLardy is a university lecturer, accountant and financial wellness educator. She runs consultations and courses that have been completed in more than 70 countries and aims to inspire and empower women to be the masters of managing their money. For more visit @liz_mclardy on Instagram.