I have a long, sordid history of spending money like a damn fool. I am unnecessarily frugal when it comes to things that are important, and lavish with things that aren’t, i.e. $11 sandwiches from the café downstairs (which I hate, both for their lacklustre taste and their being-in-excess-of-8-dollars), clocking up very avoidable fines, and clocking up more fees for not paying those fines. I sometimes wonder if I’ve physically lost my money or thrown it in the gutter in a fit of drunken rage, so astonishingly quickly does it disappear from my grasp.
My philosophy has always been that if you have money, spend it. Does this stem from nihilism? Perhaps it’s an “If I’m not going to be able to own a house in Sydney, I may as well eat as many smashed avocado breakfasts as I physically can” mentality. It also probably doesn’t help that my entire social network is of a similar disposition. There is always money for a wine, and I’ve never seen such great displays of generosity than I have watching my friends on minimum wage buy countless rounds at the bar with no promise of return. We subscribe to an “It’ll all work out in the wash” mantra, but while it does always balance out, our bank balances are all the worse for it.
I’ve always been against saving for anything other than overseas trips and expensive clothes. What if I’m involved in an accident tomorrow, involving my body, a bus, and the asphalt? I rhetorically think to myself as I pay for anything I don’t need. I use this twisted logic to avoid making a solid financial plan for my future. Outside of Instagram, severe financial irresponsibility is one of the leading causes of my anxiety. I bury my head in the sand until someone (debt collectors) plucks me out, and become overwrought with the fear of how I’m going to wriggle my way out of my money trouble this time. I’m lucky that things do have a way of working themselves out, but I don’t want to rely on that. I want to be proactive. I don’t want to just keep my head above the surface anymore. I want to be mindful with money. I want to turn this toxic relationship on its head to rid myself of the guilt, tears, and stress that comes with being financially reckless. I want to paint the walls of the house I own one day, dammit! And I want that for you, too. Below are a few tips from someone who is on a slow, winding path to being less shit at having, spending, and saving money.
Give The Barefoot Investor a read
So bad am I with money that, instead of honouring an early evening, “barefoot” date (I’ll explain shortly) with my boyfriend last night, I decided to push the boat out with a friend at a bar and order $9.50 glasses of Malbec like they were going out of fashion. (Silly us—Malbec will never go out of fashion.) I ended up running late to my date, which meant catching an Uber to the restaurant where my unimpressed dinner companion waited was waiting for me. Becoming less tipsy by way of eating mountains of Italian food took priority over talking about our prosperous future, as did atoning for my inebriated tardiness. Nevertheless, I recommend you pick up a copy of The Barefoot Investor. The date night idea involves going on a date with your s/o, family member, friend, or self, where you drink wine, eat garlic bread, and tick off a series of ventures to save and make money. It starts simply with the types of bank accounts you should be opening, which superannuation fund you should be contributing to (I love to forget about my retired self), and how much you should be saving monthly.
Know your worth
If you’re still reading this, chances are you’re also a bit of a dodo when it comes to dollar bills. Don’t worry—this doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. It just means Gaby Dunn’s podcast, Bad With Money, is going to speak to your soul. Her episode with ultimate human, Roxanne Gay, was especially relevant to my sitch as a ~young creative~, and I implore you to put your earphones in and get listening. In this particular episode, the two very accomplished women ruminate on arriving at a non-negotiable rate that you can confidently and assertively ask for. It’s incredibly illuminating. Do your research. Find out how much other people in similar roles make. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you deserve. Know that you are worth it. This is work we’re talking about, not charity, and you need to make sure you are adequately compensated. Be succinct, clear, and firm. Assemble some key facts about why you’re the best person for the job (replete with numbers and percentages), prepare 2-3 key examples of how you add value, and state your commitment to being the best damn employee ever.
Talk about money
I’ve been asking my dad a lot of money questions lately. The first phone call of this nature involved me calling to ask him why TF he’d never talked candidly and openly with me about his finances, strongly implying to this caring, beautiful man that he was the reason I was so financially inept. Of course, my parents can’t be blamed for my disregard for my future, but I do wish they’d been more open with me from the outset of my adult life about their own financial habits. A lot of our financial conversations prior to this had been of the fearmongering variety (“Do your taxes or you will DIE”), and I grew up with “Don’t live beyond your means” drilled into my cranium. Now I want to be a fly on the wall during my parents’ conversations about money. I’ve also started talking to my friends about what their relationship with money is like, how much they save, what banks they’re with, and whether or not they invest (cryptocurrency is a part of my everyday lingo these days). A conversation topic I used to find boring and crass is now my go-to dinner party favourite, which perhaps explains why my social calendar is looking so lean these days. Growing up is funny like that.
Choose a budget that works for you
The aforementioned shoeless investor (AKA the man behind The Barefoot Investor) eschews finicky budgets in favour of a 60-20-20 approach: 60% of your monthly wage should be set aside for your everyday essentials (rent—which should be no more than 30% of your wage—bills, entertainment, and memberships); 20% should be allocated to a splurge account (fancy clothes, fancy dinners, overseas trips); and 20% should be allocated to a serious savings account (for home deposits, emergencies, and the like). Make these transfers automatic, and you’ll barely notice the money is gone. This is an easy budget to stick to, and gives room for ~essential~ weekly purchases, like $9.50 glasses of Malbec.
Don't get a credit card if you can't afford one
In essence, don’t be me at age 21. My best friend and I were living in a share house and wanted to move on to greener, more expensive pastures—I just didn’t have the finances to do so. Instead of saving up and moving out when it made sense to, I had my bank send me a piece of plastic with $1,000 on it for “emergencies” and to help cover the basic costs of moving. I honoured this approach for about 40 minutes before using it to buy lunch and a cider, which then turned into groceries. Groceries turned into cigarettes, which turned into cabs, which turned into shots, clothes, and festival tickets, until there was no more of this “free money” left to spend. One thousand dollars doesn’t sound like much in the grand scheme of things, but it is to someone working part-time in hospitality with an aversion to retrospectively paying for things. I didn’t pay my debt off until debt collectors threatened to break my kneecaps. Half jokes! They didn’t promise to put baseball bat to knee, but they did relentlessly chase me, and now my credit rating is in tatters. Credit cards can be a great way to build your credit rating, and can provide you with a sense of financial security, but only if you know you can pay back what you’ve spent in a perfunctory manner.
Words, Madeleine Woon. Photography, Sarah Adamson.