My views towards money have shifted pretty dramatically in the last few years. From the ages of seventeen to twenty-seven I was in a relationship with a man who was in a secure and well-paid profession. As our relationship was serious, I never gave a lot of thought to my own finances. I wasn’t too stressed out about saving for the future. And when that relationship ended, I was faced with the very scary prospect of having to finance myself through my future. I realised that if I wanted to own my own house one day, or have a retirement plan or be in a position where I wasn’t living hand-to-mouth each week I needed to do something.
I made the mistake of confusing having a boyfriend with having long-term financial security. Please don’t think that I got into the relationship for the money. Or that I didn’t work hard to pay my own way. It’s just that whenever I’d considered financial planning for the future, I didn’t put a lot of thought into it because I imagined that my future would include another person who was financially stable. And it was a rude awakening when I realised that wasn’t going to happen.
Once the dust had settled on my break-up, I had to think very carefully about the kind of life I wanted to have. When I got to thinking about my future, there were a lot of things I wanted: a house, overseas travel, a secure retirement, which weren’t going to happen unless I made some changes and took matters into my own hands.
Now I feel that I’m on the road to financial freedom. I’m nowhere near that coveted place yet, but I’m travelling the right path. Today I wanted to discuss some of the things that I’m doing to move towards financial freedom because I think it’s a really important topic that not enough people consider carefully. I understand that I’m in a privileged position and that not everyone is able to take the same steps that I am. But I wanted to share my own experiences to give you some ideas and encourage you to think about your own financial future. So here are the things that I do to help improve my finances…
Work full time
When I moved out on my own I had a choice: I could continue to work part-time and have just enough to pay my expenses or I could look for a full-time job and earn enough to begin saving some money. This wasn’t an easy decision for me. As you may know, I have depression and was very worried about the toll that full-time work would take on my health. But I decided to give it a shot when an opportunity for a full-time job presented itself. It was a hard transition, but I adjusted and ultimately I’m very pleased that I did it. I now earn enough that I can live comfortably and still put aside some savings each week.
Live well within your limits.
When I first started my full-time job, I went a bit crazy with my pay cheques. I started taking myself out for meals several times a week, splurging on clothes and household items that I’d been coveting and buying gifts for family and friends. It was a lot of fun and I think I earned a bit of play-time. But after a month or so of this I noticed that my bank balance was at a standstill.
If you want to put away money for a rainy day, you need to live within or below your means. Find ways to save money and don’t go crazy with luxury spending. You don’t have to live like a miser, but you also can’t live on a champagne budget and expect to save cash.
Have a savings plan
It’s not enough to simply decide to save, you need to decide where your savings are going to go. Last year I opened up a dedicated savings account. It’s a high-interest account and I get a reward every few months if I don’t make a withdrawal. I don’t have a card attached to this account so if I want to withdraw from it I have to physically go into the bank. I aim to put at least a little from each pay into this account. I have a list of specific big-ticket items that I’m saving for, such as an overseas trip and a house or apartment. It really helps to have a dedicated account for your serious-grown-up savings that’s tricky to access so that you won’t be tempted to dip into it for discretionary spending.
Put money away for retirement.
Superannuation is unsexy but important. If you want the best possible deal on your super, you need to shop around a bit. Try to find a fund that works well for your lifestyle and financial profile. If you can, try to make a voluntary contribution to your superannuation every now and then. In Australia, if you meet a certain income threshold, the government will match any post-tax super contributions you make. There are also some super funds which will give you a bonus if you make voluntary contributions. So it definitely pays to put some cash into your fund from your own pocket wherever possible.
Make payments off your debts
Debt is one of the biggest obstacles to financial freedom. I have never let myself have a credit card, so I am thankfully free from credit card debt. But I do have a fairly significant HECS debt from my time at university. So I make a point of making voluntary payments off this debt when I can. Once your debts are repaid, you’ll have less liability hanging over your head. And then you can just focus on saving.
What do you do to work towards financial freedom? Are your future finances something you’ve given much thought to?
My mom was divorced when I was 8 and had kids on her own. So she taught us from a very early point to never rely on your “better” half. She put a strong sense of independence into her kids, especially us girls. I thank her dearly for that. When my first marriage abruptly ended, I may not have had a place to go but I had money to help me get a place almost immediately. Though on my second marriage, I keep my own separate finances and I plan for a future without my husband only because anything can happen. I don’t see us splitting up but an accident or illness could disrupt our joint income. I want to know I will be okay and I am prepared for when tough times happen. I am glad you are getting out there and holding your own. Many women never have the courage to do it and end up serial dating/marrying for financial stability much to their hearts and minds detriment. You go girl!
That’s fantastic that your Mum raised you with such a sound set of values. I’m sorry to hear that you’ve gone through some trials in the past, but it sounds as though you did a fantastic job of weathering the storm and looking after yourself.
I truly believe that it’s a great idea for couples to keep separate finances. This is a really contentious topic, but I think that even if you have some joint funds, each party should have money that is their own which the other person doesn’t have access to. It’s not neccessarily that you don’t trust your partner, or that you expect to break up, but it’s just smart to let each person have their independence within a relationship, financially as well as personally.
It’s awesome that you’re well prepared for the future, and any bumps that it may hold. Good on you!
Very, very wise words that we could all do to take to heart (or take to heart further) in this day and age. The economy gets trickier and trickier to navigate by the hours, it seems, and the prospect of a cozy retirement (or even living a middle class lifestyle) is disappearing for many at a truly terrifying rate. Anything, and I do mean anything (legal, of course!) that one can do to help themselves there should be at least attempted. (Goodness knows our finances are no where near where we’d like to them be, but we’re giving them our all and then some.)
With all my heart, I wish you the utmost of success on this important front, my dear friend.
Thank you so much darling. You’re so right, it is getting harder and harder to imagine a comfortable retirement. Any small step that you can take to move yourself closer to your financial goals should be commended.