I wouldn’t say I have ever been at the extremes — a hyper-spender or uber-frugal. I was fortunate to grow up learning the value of money and appreciating the hard work that earned it. From an early age, my parents told us that if we wanted luxuries, that we had to pay for it. That said, they supported my siblings and I to earn our way, initially with delivering junk mail at the ripe age of 7.
As the years ticked over, I graduated from paper runs to fast food to retail. For the better part of my teens I worked multiple jobs, as my appetite for money grew but conversely so did my ability to spend.
Lesson #1: Appreciate the value of a hard-earned dollar.
As I got older, I became more easily influenced by societal norms, comparing myself to others and trying to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ at school. Fast forward two decades and let’s put societal pressure on steroids with the introduction of social media apps like Facebook and Instagram. It must be tough for kids these days!
Lesson #2: Don’t spend money you don’t have on stuff you don’t need to impress people you don’t like.
Towards the back end of my university degree my financial mindset began to shift when I set a life goal that had significant financial implications. I wanted to take a gap year to travel. This motivated me to manage full-time study with part-time undergraduate employment plus two other casual jobs. I managed to save $23k, knowing full well I would return with debt.
Lesson #3: Set financial goals that have a purpose.
The trip was one in a lifetime, visiting 28 countries in North America, Europe and the UK. As commonly said, “if you don’t do it when you’re young, you will never do it”. So I did it, and my one rule was — no regrets — see what I want, do what I want, eat what I want! As you can imagine I paid the price, around $65k in total ($23k saved, $10k earned, $32k credit card debt). And I would do it again, because you can’t put a price on unforgettable experiences and a lifetime of memories.
Lesson #4: Spend money on what you value most in life.
On return, I was ready to work, restimulate my brain and pay back the good times. Reassured, I started my first real job out of uni, which paid comparatively well, so there was light at the end of the tunnel. But this was my first relationship with debt. And I’ll tell you, I learnt pretty quickly I’m not a fan of paying the bank interest. This was the motivation I needed to look at the problem differently — gamify my situation yet be disciplined.
Lesson #5: Don’t be a slave to debt.
Within less than a year I cleared my credit card debt and zeroed my net worth. After relieving that financial pressure, it was time that I adult, moving out of home with two mates and purchasing a car. To be honest, I allowed some lifestyle creep but continued to save diligently. It was now that I turned my focus to my career, working hard and long hours to accelerate up the learning curve and make my mark. In hindsight, this took a few years to gain momentum but has started to pay reputational, positional and financial returns.
Lesson #6: Work hard but be patient.
The Great Australian Dream. The Australian love for property is very influential and I was no different to most. The housing market has had a strong run for decades but current entry prices in the major cities is overwhelming, to say the least. To reduce the burden, my brother and I ended up going halves. And you know what? Houses aren’t cheap to run either! Lessons learnt…challenge accepted. Enter house-hacking, do-it-yourself maintenance and shopping bills around. Repeat Lesson #5 and I’ve almost cleared my mortgage debt. But it begs the question — could I have made better gains elsewhere?
Lesson #7: Track your expenses — then gamify them.
So, what’s next…?
And here we are today, starting to carve out the next chapter of my financial journey. One that intends to explore new concepts, potentially challenge existing thinking and strategies but continually educate along the way. I look forward to where it may take me.
Lesson #8: Fail forward, for each mistake is an opportunity.
It is these 8 lessons that have shaped my relationship with money, and plenty more. I have no doubt this journey will teach me a few more…