Sidehustling: Babysitting at 25

I’ve shared my foray into sidehustling over the last two months; I’ve netted over $500 in various alternative financial pursuits and learnt so much about taking opportunities as they’re presented to make extra dollars. I’ve done countless online market research surveys, sold all kinds of perplexing junk on eBay, dealt with the pre-pubescent rage of a young kid who hates maths while tutoring and wasted hours clicking through various ‘offers’ online in pursuit of increasing my overall income pie. All these activities have their ups and downs; flexibility is traded for significantly less return, while eBay and etsy attract fees and effort. However, my most hated yet valued side-hustle is babysitting.

The boyf and I are lucky to continue to get ad-hoc babysitting opportunities from our family. Typically this nets us $100 for the night – the kind of income where if you consider amount per hour, you cringe. But it was these $100 nights that gave us opportunities to pay a $1500 holiday in cash in January. Buy a Wii. Get things we couldn’t possibly afford on our unpredictable income. It also saves us money – these babysitting opportunities come up on Friday or Saturday nights. Typically, great nights for spending on takeaway or a bottle of wine, or a night out. 

The way we have learned to realise value from these $100 nights is to stash the cash. We have the ‘Fun Party Jar’ (very over the top name). All our cash jobs fill that jar. Each individual job can feel pointless and annoying. $100 can feel like it’s not remotely worth it. But slowly and steadily, we add to that jar. And it starts to add up. $500. $1000. Enough to make a big difference to our lives. 

To make it bearable involves acknowledging the special time it nets with family. We get the kids outside. We learn a bit about what we’d be like as parents. We shamelessly exploit screens. We make up games and learn the most delicate lessons in dispute resolution. And slowly we add to our wealth and grow our tools at our disposal to build the life we want. 

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May Money Round Up

I’m really starting to get into the groove with these money round-ups or spending reports. It’s been a great provider of perspective during those moments of weakness, where I just really want to buy something. And as the data has collated over the months, it becomes more and more interesting to examine trends in my spending. The biggest change has definitely been the almost complete eradication of spending on clothes. And I have noticed a definite general trends towards awareness of waste and how to reduce it – waste of money in buying things I don’t use and waste of time in spending on events I don’t care about because I was pressured in to it.

This money round-up looks at how I spend my $120 weekly pocket money on completely discretionary things. It does not assess our team expenses (groceries, rent, other boring necessities), nor does it track savings. It does however provide a monthly report on my side-hustles, as I continue to pursue and refine the side-hustle experiment.

So without further ado, the May Money Round Up…

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It’s far from perfect, seeing as I completely forgot to track a week (what a fool), but there it is…a very inconsistent month.

The best thing I spent money on this month was the $30 on boxing gloves and wraps for my 3-month scoopon to local gym, Box & Bike. It is a unique work-out class that combines 2 minute boxing combinations with 2 minutes on the spin bike. You sweat your face off, and it’s a good chance to reinvigorate yourself if you’re working late, or to end the day by releasing a lot of rage. The other best thing was my Leuchtterm bullet journal, which I’m currently obsessed with filling, and already has brought me much more peace than my previous system.

The worst thing I spent my money on was … well, nothing. Generally I did overspend, but I’m not heartbroken about it, since everything had a purpose. I’ll be subsidising my overspend with my side-hustle income from the market research surveys I’ve participated in. I’m really going to miss that money when it’s gone!

Now onto the much more exciting table – my May side-hustle income:

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This was a really exciting month for my etsy store! I received 13 orders, and made a total of $97.40 in revenue – that figure subtracts the approximate value of fees (which are charged in USD). I don’t think I’ll be able to replicate this month for a while, so I’m holding on to the lessons and excitement while I can. And I was exceptionally thrilled to make my first commissioned crochet baby blanket. My profits were extremely small on this little project, but it was a real thrill to think people actually like my work.

Otherwise I’m continuing to do the occasional survey on Swagbucks and MySurvey, and managed to earn a voucher from each. That’s just about my max limit, as I mentioned last month, as earning points can be really labour intensive if you’re trying to maximise your options, and that significantly reduces your return on investment.

I did make a big move in reducing my side-hustle commitments, and possible income, this month, by winding up my tutoring student. The lack of consistency, the difficult student and the lack of commitment had really started to plague the relationship, and neither of us were getting anything out of it any longer. It was definitely something I should have brought to an end much sooner, but as it was my best return on investment side hustle option ($40 for 45 minutes of work + 15 minutes travel time), it was hard to let that go. However plenty of things matter much more than money: sanity, quiet Sundays and a clean home come to mind. And I’m glad to be constantly assessing my priorities and using the power of no to help me create a life I’m happy with.

June is a really exciting month – it’s my birthday (!!), there’s a long weekend, and I’m heading to Melbourne for a weekend, just to name a few of the highlights. I’m anticipating it will involve quite a lot of spending, especially while I’m in Melbourne, so I’ll be going easy on myself for that, and generally working on reigning it in on the other weeks. I’m moving tracking my spend from various hand-written worksheets to my Bullet Journal, and I’m looking forward to sharing how that goes. The key goal this month will just be consistency: consistency in writing down every dollar I spend and every dollar I earn.

 

 

Accidental Side Benefits

I’ve been tracking my discretionary spending since February – every dollar I spent has been written down and considered and agonised over. It’s been a very rewarding practice in discipline and in attention to detail. I’ve learnt a lot about how quickly money can vanish when you aren’t paying attention, turned into coffee and glitter and blown away. 

While I’ve learnt a lot about what I spend, the most surprising thing is that for once, I succeeded in not buying clothes. I have set goals on countless occasions to stop buying outfits and shoes and accessories, only to be thwarted by my own materialism. I allowed too many flash sales and pushy friends and bored lunch breaks spent window shopping to get in the way of actually exercise some willpower. And so I never did. But this time, with my focus on using my $120 a week on things I truly need or that spark joy, all of a sudden – I have only bought one item of clothing since January. In comparison, I was too scared to even look at my credit card statements (other than to pay them off in full) in 2014, as I always knew I’d spent hundreds more than I could acknowledge ok clothes I didn’t even like that much. This shift says so much to me – that clothes do not, in fact, spark great joy. That there is more to my life than looking a certain way or being a certain way. And that my willpower is much stronger when it is directed to creating a small habit of writing down my spending, than pushing myself to quit something or utterly overhaul my life. 

I continue to track my spending in handwritten A4 sheets, and entering the data weekly in to my spreadsheet. Some weeks still suck – for example, I was right on track last week until an extremely aggravating parking ticket pushed me over the edge by $3.62. And sometimes, the urge to splurge is so overwhelming it hurts. I use a bunch of strategies to stop me in these moments: looking at my savings balance; physically walking away from the temptation for five minutes; looking at my sheet of tracked expenses to remind me what it’ll do to me; just saying no. And slowly it works. 

The best part about tracking my spending is that by the end of the year, I hope I can report back that I have only bought a few more items of clothing. Starting with socks, because if I don’t get a proper pair of socks that actually match soon, my adult status is going to be revoked and that would be a tragedy. 

April Spending Update

It is the same banal question at the end of every month – how on earth is it the end of April already? This month was full of activities and adventures – we spent a long-weekend hiking, I went to an Inner Peace Party (more on that in a future post, but it was a revelation), I hosted a few events at work, began coordinating yoga classes at work, kick-started a fitness program for young lawyers, and went out (a lot).

Spending

This financial assessment is based solely on my $120/week discretionary dollars; it doesn’t consider what we cutely call our ‘team account’ spending, which encompasses rent, food, petrol, and other miscellaneous life necessities. It also doesn’t include personal health insurance, phone bills and other boring costs. The motivation between dividing it up this way was for me to focus more specifically upon my personal spending habits. As a passionate discretionary spender, I have never really faced the true cost of my love of clothes, stationery and other miscellaneous life items that I view as needs, and most view as wants. I started tracking my spending in this category only, which has thrown up some interesting habits.

So without further ado, my spending (set out as the week ending the date in the top row):

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The total amount I was able to set aside for the month was $23.34. Although this number isn’t an overwhelming victory of fiscal responsibility, it certainly is a huge improvement on my spending in March. Interestingly, I didn’t convincingly track my spending this month; instead I just relied on using my credit card and doing an end of month round-up. Although I did manage to stay under budget over the course of the month, I felt generally out of control for the entirety of the month, not knowing what I’d spent and where my money was going.

The best money I spent this month was $68 on a last-minute triathlon entry. I love triathlons (despite being terrible at them), and we had so much fun at this spontaneous event.

The ‘worst’ money I spent was the $42.96 on candles / $69.90 on gifts. ‘Worst’ is not the best label for this particular spending; it involved trying to buy a gift for my very good friend. I’d already decided on one thing (the $69.90 gift), felt like it was too expensive, bought a wholly unconvincing $42.96 gift (lovely but boring candle), then realised I should have just got the $69.90 gift so I bought that and kept the candle and basically cost myself a whole lot of unnecessary money. While I’m glad I got the better gift for my friend, I’m annoyed I wasted so much time and money on the process when there was simply no need to do so.

Side-hustling

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My favourite part of this monthly round-up – my bonus money! Sourced from selling items and doing market research, my side-hustle income gives me the flexibility to buy the fun things without breaking my $120 pocket money spend. This month was the end of my eBay sales; I just completely forgot about it! So that was a shame, however, I only have a finite number of items that I don’t want anymore, but are still in the condition to be sold or even wanted by another person.

The big shift was my etsy sales for the month. My total revenue was $34.50, and once I subtracted etsy’s fees for using the platform, my total revenue was $31.05.

I heavily checked out of the market research options this month. The constant online surveys was doing my head in, and I needed a break from assessing how often I drink booze and whether I like certain advertising options. Overall, they are also not the most efficient way to turn over the dollars. However, online surveys are a good way to use time that you may accidentally use spending money making money. It is gratifying to get an extra $10 here and there for effectively wasting time. But it can be unsustainable if you get bored quickly, so I’m just going to bounce back and forth on when I do them, and try not to force myself to do surveys when I’m annoyed or frustrated.

Looking forward

I have some big goals for my etsy store this month. April was full of fun activities, and I had a great time, but as the weather shifts and I’m more desperate to spend time at home, I want to use those hours to create new products and develop a more comprehensive business plan. This little business has brought a real sense of well-roundedness to my life. Work can be so hard, and having something beautiful on the side to look forward to really transforms my mood when I’m feeling down.

We have some big team goals coming up, too. As I previously discussed, I met with a financial planner, which was good and bad. We’ll be forging ahead alone, and we have set some pretty steep goals to meet by the end of the financial year (30 June) – including starting to look to break in to the property market!

We rent at the moment, so we’d have some breaklease provisions to deal with, in addition to the whole buying our first home situation of you know, saying good bye to all of our savings. But the more we talk about it, the more it feels like the right, and very exciting, decision.

 

March Money

This week has been one of those weeks that people refer to as ‘a total whirlwind!’ or ‘completely crazy!’. But I won’t refer to it like that since I’m above cliches (except that I’m not at all). This week has been an absolute rollercoaster, full of random personal events that made it feel very significant that I was busy, meaning my well-intentioned plans of assessing my March money and writing it all up for full disclosure fell by the wayside in favour of Ben & Jerry birthday sundaes and outdoor movie attendances (work mandated – life is hard). In any case, I’m thoroughly exhausted, and, if I’m honest, quite nervous at setting out these numbers, because they are not impressive. I struggled hard this month, but it was a very good learning curve as to the costs of not saying no.

This financial assessment is based solely on my $120/week discretionary dollars; it doesn’t consider what we cutely call our ‘team account’ spending, which encompasses rent, food, petrol, and other miscellaneous life necessities. It also doesn’t include personal health insurance, phone bills and other boring costs. The motivation between dividing it up this way was for me to focus more specifically upon my personal spending habits. As a passionate discretionary spender, I have never really faced the true cost of my love of clothes, stationery and other miscellaneous life items that I view as needs, and most view as wants. I started tracking my spending in this category only, which has thrown up some interesting habits.

This financial assessment also gives me an opportunity to review the success of any side-hustle income. This is a slightly more interesting category this time around, as I have expanded my side hustles from online market research and selling old crap on eBay to opening an etsy store. The etsy store has made a whopping three sales, so it’s contribution to my overall side-hustle is very limited. However it has been a really great learning experience, and I’m hoping to see improvement in sales as I increase my product inventory and continue to experiment with different facets of the store.

Spending

Here it is, the numbers for March (to the last Sunday that is still in March):

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Unfortunately there are very many negative numbers up there. The real killers were:

  • $160 on a ticket to a dinner I didn’t even want to go to. The worst bit about this dinner is that on the day, I was offered a free ticket.
  • $250 for the boyf’s birthday (it did feel worth it, since I got him the second-greatest gift of all time).
  • A confusingly-high $60 on stationery on the 20th – zero idea what that is.

What I took away from this month is that there are always things I will want to say yes to, but often the reason I want to say yes is very confusing: wanting people to like me, avoiding the viral fear of missing out, thinking it will be worth it for some vague, unspecified reason that could be easily shot down if I said it out loud. Most often, that is the time to say no. This dinner I attended is a great testament to that. It was an awards night for women in the law, so a cause I am very passionate about and something that is personally relevant to me. However, I am not a big believer in attending lots of these sorts of celebratory events; I prefer the day to day grunt work of pulling together events, rather than forking out lots of money to just attend. I bought a ticket when a very good friend of mine sent me a random text, dropping important names and making me feel like I’d be a ‘part of something’ if I attended. Of course I immediately regretted it. Then I found out my work had a table, and I could have just gone for free. And on the actual night, the friend who had invited me ended up sitting on a different table. I already forgot what happened at the dinner. The food was underwhelming. I didn’t even network that hard. So it was $160 that would have been much better off in my pocket.

I had a vague plan of not spending as much the next few weeks to recover the cost, but as is very clear from the above, that did not happen. Instead, this $160 blow out acted as a catalyst for not caring at all about what I spent, and I never recovered from it. In fact, I just ended up habitually over spending for the rest of the month. I’m disappointed. But it’s just one month out of twelve.

Side-hustling

A much tinier little spreadsheet, but one I’m very proud of! This month I increased my income by an exciting 8.67%.

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Most of that is due to a very lucrative market research role I managed to land, which accounts for over 50% of that income. But these numbers reflect the sale of many eBay items, and the beginning of my new business!

The Etsy number is a sad 34 cents. Although I did make a revenue of $6 in March, by the time I paid the fees associated with the sale, removed shipping and paid the fees associated with listing items, March finished up with a very low income from Etsy. Although it hasn’t been a big earner, it has been a really fun learning curve. I always talked about wanting to open my own business, and it feels so satisfying that I finally did. Hopefully April’s Etsy numbers will be a bit more impressive, but even if they aren’t, that’s okay.

Looking forward

As always, April is a new month and a chance to use what I learned about myself in March to improve my spending habits and get those numbers without a negative in front of them. And if possible, to improve my total side-hustle income. I’m anticipating it to be a lot more difficult depending on the overly-lucrative market research position, which is very ad-hoc, but nevertheless, it feels good to aim high.

My big financial step for April has been to set up one of those no-fee no-obligation initial consultations with a financial planner. After two months of messing around with my exceptionally annoying bank, I found an independent planner who didn’t waste my time and I have a meeting set up next week. I see this being a good opportunity to build some financial knowledge and to set up a more comprehensive financial plan.

 

The Side Hustle Experiment

As you may have deduced from my in-depth blog on the February finances, I’ve been enamoured with personal finance for a long time, despite not really doing much about it. I love the idea of having control over my daily spending (personally, and jointly – the boyf and I have had what we cutely term Team Accounts for going on 3 years now), and I love the idea of control over my future wealth and stability, but actioning that? Honestly, it’s hard. Especially when you lack a familiarity with financial literacy, and suffer from the innate laziness that plagues most modern-day millennials such as myself. 

But 2016 has been a year of spurring myself in to action on a lot of fronts, including finances. And February was, secretly, the month of the Side Hustle Experiment. ‘Side hustle’ is that term bandied around the personal-finance island of the internet and basically means ‘way of making money that isn’t your salary/wage.’ Without realising it, I’ve been a great proponent of the side hustle for a long time. I tutored for cash throughout my six years at uni; I usually held down multiple jobs to finance my expensive year abroad and taste for the fun life; I would have the yearly clean out of my accumulated junk and sell the wares at community flea markets. I even had a weird memory the other day of a small business course I did in year 10 where we had to imagine up a small business and actually implement it. My team sold flavoured ice for $1/ cup – hilarious, yet hilariously popular. We ended up making over $700 amongst four of us after selling at school lunch times for 2 weeks (it is extremely hot through Australian summers, which greatly contributed to our success) and covering our costs. So you can say the bug for making money on the side bit early.

I continued to tutor ad hoc once I started my career, but as always I lacked discipline in dedicating this money to anything and saw it frittered away on expensive international trips and activewear. Life would be so different if I’d never heard of Lorna Jane. But there’s no point in lamenting it now. While I did stack up the cash, it disappeared quickly, and I never really quantified how much it was adding to my income to understand its true value at any one time. Although last year the boyf and I created the Party Jar, where our tutoring cash was stashed, alongside any bonus babysitting money (my cousins are party animals and we are lame, so we look after their kids for an easy $100 – $150 a pop) and other random cash incomes (such as selling our surround sound system from 1992 on Gumtree), which funded a week in the Caribbean, we didn’t really budget it out with hard and fast numbers to actually prove any benefit or spur us on to do it again.

Cue the Side Hustle Experiment. Complimenting my strict approach to tracking my spend and strictly monitoring where those hard earned dollars were running off to, I endeavoured to improve my total income pie. Because when I did that budget with the boyf, I realised that no matter how much I scrimped, squished and remoulded my income, the only way I could get more out of my money was to get more money. So. I did.

Obtaining additional streams of income was subject to the following limitations: time, as I work as a lawyer and the jokes about only seeing the sun every second Thursday can be scarily accurate; and flexibility. I also introduced the limit of using what was available to me with no start-up cost.

With those limits in line, I undertook the following additional income streams for the month of February: market research, tutoring, and selling my own crap on eBay. These options worked effectively because they cost me nothing in start-up costs (although eBay does involve some fees), they were mostly flexible, and many I could do during brain-dead moments when churning through episodes of Gilmore Girls on Netflix (or I was having a moment at work). (Wow. I like to write with brackets). (Lol).

Anyway, I sat down and  crunched the numbers, and I made an additional $197.83  in February. Using very rough figures, the effect was to increase my monthly income by 4.5%. And, don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to overstate the situation, but I term this a massive success. Not only did I earn a tidy little profit on my endeavours that I wouldn’t have earned otherwise (although I wish I’d made just another $2.17 to crack that $200), but by keeping meticulous track of this income, I feel a strong degree of control over the actions I took to generate that $197.83. And that is extremely rewarding.

So, here is how I did it, and how you can do it too. 

1. Swagbucks

I love this site. I wish I had been using it earlier. It is the easiest market research site for making dollars just doing what you normally do: searching the internet, wasting time doing random things (I’ve done a lot of surveys, but earning those Swagbucks are addictive), playing some mindless games, points back on online shopping (I lament the multiple $200+ Lorna Jane purchases from 2014 that would have earned me some serious Swagbucks…), downloading apps… there’s a billion ways to earn points (called Swagbucks), on this multi-purpose site, and all of them add up in order to be cashed out in the form of Paypal vouchers (my personal favourite), or vouchers for favourite online stores such as Amazon, or XBox Live memberships (the boyf was super excited for this particular option). Effectively, if you find yourself messing around on your computer a lot, put that time to more productive use, click around on Swagbucks, get yourself some easy points and find yourself a little richer at the end of the month for no real effort.

In February I earned one $25USD Paypal voucher, and inched over the line for the second on the 1st of March Australia time (which was still actually February in Swagbucks time…but I left the official numbers at 1 x$25 for February). So Swagbucks isn’t an epic earner, but it’s an easy, passive kind of income, and I’d always take an extra $25 every few weeks to boost my total income for the month. If you click my referral link above, or here, you get some bonus Swagbucks to start you off.

2. MySurvey

A simpler take on Swagbucks, MySurvey is a site where you take surveys, earn points, and can cash those points out for dollaz when you reach certain thresholds. I earned 2 x $10AUD vouchers in February. You are notified when new surveys become available which you qualify for, which is really nice, and I found it really quick to rack up the points. I would have probably earned 4 x vouchers, but there was an extended period of time where I just wasn’t hearing anything from them. Anyway, it all seems to be going gang-busters now, and I’ve cashed out a few extra vouchers already in March. I highly recommend signing up, even if you only do a survey every now and again – the points add up quickly, and, as with Swagbucks, it’s an extremely simple way of boosting your account in small but meaningful ways.

3. Tutoring

The only difficult thing with tutoring is finding a solid family to tutor for. I’ve worked through all kinds of students: smart ones, hard workers, extremely not-smart ones, and ones with passionate parents, and the ones who succeed are almost singularly the ones with passionate parents. I’ve been tutoring for the same family since 2014, which is fine, and often it can take that time to build up enough of a rapport with a student (especially a young one, like this student), in order to see results and get the parents on side. Unfortunately, although the parents are happy to pay me, they aren’t happy to put in any work which can undo a lot of the effort you put in. But I digress. I charge a paltry $40 for 45 minutes, which includes me coming to their home, but I’ve found keeping that fee low means that when I just don’t feel like it one week, or they make up a lame excuse at the last minute to cancel, no one is too upset. This month I made $80 in tutoring, because the family cancelled twice. So it’s not necessarily a reliable income stream, but it’s a quick financial boost with great results and can be very personally rewarding if you and your student develop a good relationship and see some personal and grade improvement. 

4. eBay

This has surprisingly been my favourite way to bring in some cash. Marie Kondo filled my mind with dreams of neatly folded envelopes of clothing that only brings me joy, and in that adventure, I discovered many good quality clothing items in my wardrobe that, despite not bringing me joy, could bring me back some cash. Selling stuff on eBay is exceptionally easy with the app. The only limitations come from those imposed on you by eBay at the start as you build your seller’s profile, where you are limited to free ten items to be listed per month. My limit was quickly raised to 30 free items a month once I proved I actually sent off what I sold. The only other limit for eBay is your personal limitations. People will buy the most surprising things; and the only way you’ll know what it is they’ll buy is if you make it available for purchase. My biggest surprises were a used Lorna Jane sports bra that went for  $31 after a hectic bidding war and a broken bracelet (I’d fully disclosed the extent of brokenness in the listing). I’ve learnt a lot of things through my adventures on eBay that I’ll share in another post. But even taking into account the PayPal fees and the eBay fees, I sold eight items in February for a final profit of $72.83. And already in March I’ve made two sales, and have three big bidding listings. It’s looking like another successful month.

So that’s how I made $197.83 in February. Since this month was such a resounding success, I’ve put that money into my Gold Star account, continued with Swagbucks and MySurvey (and tutoring of course), listed another 10 items on eBay and taken the risk of investing some money into some items to kickstart my own etsy business. It’s an idea that’s brewing and taking shape, but I’m so excited to take some real risks and churn over some real income – one very small step at a time.

Anything I missed? Any tips you’d like to share, or you’d like me to share? What else do you recommend I try? Let me know in the comments!

E x

February: Tracking Spending

Tracking spending is one of those virtues punted around the personal finance blog space that I’ve always admired and never bothered with. I mean, why do I need to track my spending? I track it already because I’m the one doing all the spending! My credit card certainly isn’t scanning itself at the check out, or secretly entering its details in my favourite online stores for magic parcels to be delivered (that would be delightful and dangerous). However, in a push to pull myself together after two years of full time work and little to show for it other than an emergency fund and some expensive international trips – great things, I admit, but not necessarily aligning with my long term goals – it was time to change.

The boyf and I wrote a new budget at the start of February. This budget incorporated every single thing we could think of: rent/bills/staying alive costs; petrol; future guaranteed trips (so many weddings and family overseas); medications; homewares; garden items; gifts for all occasions; and $120 in spending money a week.

That spending money encompasses all personal expenses: aside from the standard luxuries of clothes, shoes, eating out when it isn’t a date-thing (eg if one of us has a lunch with friends), and miscellaneous whatevers, it also incorporates things like haircuts.

Hilariously, I felt pretty smug about that $120/week. That’s a lot of cash per week. In fact, and pardon my extraordinary maths skills, that adds to up $6,240 a year. And seriously, with how we had carefully apportioned and accounted for all of our expenses for the year, what on earth could be left over to spend it all on?

Thankfully my misplaced confidence didn’t allow me to justify not tracking my spending this time. My primary thought was that I could use my tracked spending as a proud record of how under budget I stayed each week (I haven’t been drinking for the month of February, which has helped significantly). I also thought it would be interesting to know for real what I spend each week on various items. For example, lattes are the devil of the personal finance world; but working in a law firm, going out to coffee is the way to stay connected. It effectively defines your personal brand. I’m okay with parting with some of that $120 to improve my work networks. However, how much of that $120/week goes to coffee? I couldn’t answer that question, and the clearest resolution to being able to do so to me was to write it all down. A final motivator was my passion for recording things with pen and paper and flipping through stacks of filled out forms. It’s weird. I blame it on being a lawyer.

I’ve been using the Mindful Budgeting program from Blonde On A Budget, which is great and simple and has some excellent guidelines and motivators. However, a blank piece of paper or the back of an envelope or honestly your notes app would do just fine. You do you. I printed off a few sheets of the weekly spend tracker and kept the current week’s sheet in the back of my planner, so that I wouldn’t have the excuse of not having it with me.

Week one went swimmingly. I diligently wrote down all my expenditures and came in exceedingly under budget. I was so excited I renamed one of my accounts the ‘Gold Star’ Account and moved all unspent pocket money there (I know. You can laugh. It is ridiculous). Week two skated much closer to the edge. In fact, the reality is I went over the allotted $120, but I lost my piece of paper with the tracker. I also got over confident – I had stayed under by around $1.50 on the Saturday, so did my gold star money transfers, only to spend $29 on Sunday (it was being a good grandchild to my nan, but still – it was over budget). The worst part of this is I never wrote it down. I used losing the piece of paper as a sign that it didn’t matter. And that was the start of the epic blow-out of week three.

Goodbye overconfidence. Goodbye gold star account. Goodbye getting ahead. I went over budget by $80 in week three. $80! And the tragic thing is, I knew it but didn’t really know it until after the money was spent because I intentionally put off writing down the numbers. Yes, I stood there and scanned my credit card. And yes I entered the details in an online purchase. And yes, I even stupidly misread the fine print and was charged for something I should have cancelled – twice. But I didn’t realise exactly how much I’d muffed it until I wrote everything down and looked at those hard figures. It was surprisingly hard to swallow, all that pride and cockiness that $120 a week is a tonne of money, and anyway, I have everything I need! What could I possibly keep wanting to buy?

Turns out, wants never go away.

Week four I forced myself to suffer the consequences. I subtracted my overspend from week three, which left me with $33.98. Just another kick in the guts of how irresponsible I’d been, if I only had that much left for a week of miscellaneous purchases such as makeup remover, coffee, whimsical stickers and you know, wine.

I kicked off week four with two zero spend days, which felt like a real win. Much like giving up sugar, cutting spending only needs you to get through the next hour without buying something. And then the next hour. And you just keep going like that, one small portion of time successfully meeting your goal at a time until you’ve whittled away a substantial amount of your larger goal. Anyway, I nailed it and only spent $15.20 – $11 on coffee and $4.20 on take-away hot chips from chicken treat. This came as a massive relief after the panic at the end of week three.

I now present below the final figures for February, made possible only by carefully scrawling down each dollar I waved goodbye to and sent on its merry way:

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NB: You’ll see that the week ending 14/02/16 has numbers in it, despite me saying earlier I’d lost my tracking sheet. A thorough scan through my transaction accounts and some sleuthing helped me piece together exactly what I had purchased in that week, so I’ve populated it that way.

What’s there to learn from these numbers?

First,  I have a big problem with impulse purchasing stationery items. The main reason for this is I told myself I couldn’t buy clothes because I have so many. Instead of that restriction reducing my total expenditure, it simply redirected my spending to a new category. This is definitely a bad habit that requires stricter monitoring in March. Second, coffee isn’t as damaging as I thought. The week of the $28.70 coffee spend was when I picked up surprise coffees for my secretaries (I’m an angel), so yes Perth has steep coffee costs but they’re not that bad. Third, the motivation behind a lot of this $120 spending makes me sad. None of it is to charity. None of it is to ethical companies, or focussed on sustainable practice. A lot of it is selfishly motivated to appear a certain way and have certain things to make me happy, and honestly, although some of it does make me happy, the collective whole just makes me disappointed at my attitude towards my salary. My salary is not just an opportunity to spoil myself with immediate wants. It is an opportunity to create the future I want, for myself and for the world, one small step at a time.

This acknowledgment is my focal point for March pocket money spending. When faced with the option of spending from my $120, I will question whether that spend aligns with those concepts: a better future for me, and for the world. Sometimes it will align with one, and not the other, and that’s okay. But on plenty of other occasions, it will be important to pull back and say yes, not to spending, but to using that money in a better way, potentially (most likely) at a later date.

Tracking my pocket money spend for the month of February has been empowering and eye-opening. It has allowed me to pinpoint my weaknesses and examine my motivations. And it gives me a base to alter future behaviours. The boyf and I also electronically track our shared expenses in a spreadsheet, which has great benefits for awareness and transparency in our relationship. But I have found great understanding of myself in looking specifically at my little slice of the pie in excruciating detail.

March is going to be Gold Star month – that poor Gold Star account really needs some love.

Backflip Budget Day

So you may recall I made a dramatic statement that I would commence celebrating No Funds February, commencing tomorrow, involving a strict list of allowable expenditure and strong statements of perfection.

Well, that’s hilarious, because I’m no longer doing it. Sorry.

But with very good reason! Today was the first date of the 12 months of dating gift I wonderfully compiled for the boyfriend, and this romantic date was titled ‘Basketball and Budgets’. We went to the basketball on Friday night (delightful). Then we budgeted today (less delightful).

It was definitely one of the most productive dates I’ve ever been on. We sat on the couch. We opened the budget excel spreadsheet template that’s freely available from ASIC. I got out some coloured pens and a cute notebook.

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I love an unnecessary flat-lay!

And we got into some real talk. It was confronting. But it was extremely empowering, and I encourage everyone, if you haven’t already, to chat money with your partner. Even if you aren’t slowly migrating to wholly combined incomes, talking about your expenditure, your bad spending habits and your goals is a really great way to reset your financial program for the year. It’s also a really great opportunity to get honest with yourself. For example, I have saved a microscopic percentage of my annual income for the past two years. I realised that without having carefully tracked everything I spend, I had absolutely no idea where those tens of thousands of dollars have gone (although my gut feel is rent, pretty stationery, activewear and foreign transaction fees). There was no way I could reach the goals I wanted to if I wasn’t going to actually put in the time and effort to setting the budget and tracking how I comply with it.

It took us the better part of 4 hours to set up the system, but we followed it through to the end, and February has morphed from ‘Fund Free February’ to ‘Budget Backflip’: the month where I prove to myself I can stick to a tight budget. And please, find below, the handy guide to how to successfully complete a budget date with your partner and not kill each other.

How to successfully complete a budget date with your partner and not kill each other

  1. Clear off your schedule for the day (or at least 3 or 4 hours). These conversations take some serious time, and you don’t want any extra stressors outside of the inherent stress of money-talk.
  2. Talk about your big picture goals. Do you want to buy a house? Do you want to have a wedding? Do you want to invest? Do you want to have $1000 in your savings account? Every single goal you have is valid and legitimate, and talk about them without judgment or shame.
  3. Set up a budget template. There are millions of templates on the internet, you just need to find one that suits you. I recommend the ASIC one I linked to above, because it gives really comprehensive categories and automates all the pies and statistics for you. But really all you need is something that gives you somewhere to input how much you earn, and how much you spend in different categories.
  4. Populate the categories. Be honest with yourself here. Do you spend $300 a week on boozey weekends and dinners? Put that in the alcohol/bars/restaurants columns. Do you find yourself spending $100/month on gifts? Put it down. The first population of categories should be what you really tend to spend.
  5. Look at the numbers. Do you tend to spend more than your income, without saving? You need to tweak your categories. Consider what spending you can reduce so that the numbers work for you and your goals.
  6. Save your budget, and print it out. Put it up somewhere where you can see it.
  7. This is my key step: automate your transactions as much as possible. Make sure your money is going to appropriate buckets. Are you saving $50/week? Automatically debit it weekly to the savings account. Same goes with any loan repayments.
  8. Now you’ve caught up with me! Spend month one tracking all of your spending. At the end of month, we’ll be checking in to see how we’ve conformed and whether our numbers are right. Then, if need be, we’ll do some further tweaking – preferably in the direction of more saving, less spending (at least, that’s my plan). I’ve been using the Mindful Budgeting system, but the back of an envelope works. Or your notes app. Literally anywhere you remember to write something down.

Let me know how you go? I love a good money chat.

E x

Facing my fear of investing

Major confession: I’m extremely fearful of investing money. 

It’s not the risk factor so much. It’s the fact I understand literally nothing about it. No matter how many blogs I read or articles I browse that address ‘investing for dummies!’, I can’t crack it. 

But I’m stating my intention. This is it! This is the year for breaking the fear and putting some knowledge in my head and some cash on the line. My savings account balance is currently $11,445. I have a strong feeling that my previous conception that investing can only be done by the $10,000s is wrong. So step one will be to take $2,000 and put it somewhere. 

Where? I don’t know. I’m very confused about every single facet of this business. But I’m ready to bulldoze my way in. I’m sick of holding myself back, and feeling behind. However, I’d love some advice. What were your first steps? Any advice for an impulsive, distractable person in their mid-20s such as myself?

The ‘big events’ of 2016

I’ve been plugging away at my iPhone calculator, messing around at a high level with the figures that need to guide my life this year. I always get caught up in the nitty gritty of what the numbers look like, and forget that this is a guide to my actual life – the life that is made up of a thousand facets of interests, of love of clothes, of health problems and bills, or girls nights out and brunch. And that all those things can be monetised, or, as I have preferred to do for the last 25 year, close my eyes at swiping the credit card, and open them only to the experience. 

Anyway, to give me some visuals to what is going on this year, in my life, I wanted to set out some of the big events. ‘Big’ is defined as anything that I know I’m going to be doing that is going to cost money, outside of a standard budget. This process is to allow me to incorporate those events  during our budget and basketball date (more on this later), so they do become part of the standard budget, and I can eliminate some of that wilful blindness. 

2016 – the big things 

1. 4 week challenge through my work out group. When: February 2016. Costs: 50/ week plus 2 body scans at $35 each. Total: $270

2. Attending the wedding of my oldest friend in December as maid of honour. This will involve flights to Melbourne for me and the boyf, dress costs, shoe costs, hair and makeup, accommodation, a wedding gift, general travel costs of being in a different city such as taxis, buses, food and other miscellaneous things that will inevitably come up.  Total: My estimate for flights is $450/person, so the totally cost is a likely minimum of $1,000 just for me. However, with wedding tax and the like, it would be prudent to set aside $1,300. 

3. Laser eye surgery. This isn’t set in stone, as I’m petrified of the concept of having lasers at my eyes. However, I’ve been wearing glasses since I was nine, and full-time since I was nineteen. While I’m extremely fortunate that my eye care costs nothing thanks to a combination of Medicare, private health cover and family connections, it’s been suggested I’m becoming a prime candidate for laser. Also, the idea of waking up and immediately having sight, not groping around for my glasses, really appeals to me. Cost: upon consultation. 

4. Triathlons. I am doing my second ironman70.3 in May, and I know I still have the bug to want to do a third in November. This is literally the most expensive hobby in the world. While I have already out laid some of the killer costs, including a road bike, helmet, cycle shoes, cycle sunnies and Tri suit, and the entry fee to the May event (a cool $450), the protein bars and gels, new shoes and socks, further entry fees, pool fees and travel costs all add up to absolutely decimate your savings account. It would be prudent to set aside $1,200 for ironmans/triathlons this year. 

And I’ll leave it at that. The years always throw out insane surprise expenses, and I’m already feeling an odd mix of fear and excitement looking at that list I’ve created. Articulating these ideas and concerns that whirl around in the back of my head on those sleepless nights where I panic about whether, at 25, I have only set myself up to fail, brings a sense of calm to the chaos.