August Spending Review

It’s been a while since I’ve given a thorough insight into my spending habits. That’s partially because it’s been a busy year. It’s partially because I got myself into a pretty spendy pattern of behavior. And it’s mainly because I wasn’t tracking my spending.

I was on vacation at the beginning of August and began to feel a bit sick about how little I knew about my spending. I set myself the goal of getting through the month by tracking every cent I spent. The mid-term goal was to use the impetus of that knowledge to begin pursuing a 40% savings program in September, October and November.

The win: I did track every cent I spent. I tried a bunch of apps, but settled on my tried and true ASIC Moneysmart TrackMySpend app. It may not be the prettiest, or the smoothest – in fact, it can be frustratingly clunky and visually quite average, but it is inherently simple to use and that is truly all I could ask for. I’ll save it for another post, but the discipline and learning from tracking my spending really comes from having to individually input each of the items every time I spend (or withholding spending to avoid the shame of inputting an item I didn’t want to show up at the end of the month), and this was the only app I found that met this simple goal with ease.

In the end, August became about two things: tracking every cent I spend, and re-building my sidehustle savings account. I’m proud to say I met both of those goals – and want to display my victory for you in glorious colour!

Behold, my August spending breakdown, in pie form:

August Spending

Man that is pretty. It’s also a very eye-opening insight into my spending habits. The labels don’t capture all slices of the pie (despite my best efforts on Google Sheets), so for full disclosure, fees amounted to 0.6%, Uber 0.3%, parking 0.3%, doctor 1.4% and eating out 1.5%.

I’ve done some personal analysis of these figures:

  • Rent is exceptionally high as we pay rent fortnightly, and August was one of those delightful months where there were three payments instead of two.
  • I love clothes, and my eBay habit has become a little uncontrollable. Although I hadn’t realized quite how much these great deals online were taking up of my monthly spend.
  • Cosmetics is outrageously high this month – thanks to replacing a broken perfume (and my expensive taste), and an exceptionally long layover in Dallas airport resulting in an accidental Mac foundation spree.
  • There’s no fuel spend this month, thanks to mum and dad filling up my car before I arrived home in Perth on the 12th ❤ The very low transport costs are generally due to living in the inner city, and walking to work, a lifestyle for which I am extremely grateful.
  • Event spend incorporated a ticket to a ball, raffle tickets at a quiz night, and tickets to that quiz night. It was a pretty darn fun month. There will need to be much more free fun nights from now on.

Basically what I learned in August is I spend to make myself feel better, and that typically results in me feeling more stressed or just generally worse. I also learned (for the one thousandth time) how much knowledge truly is power – just by being able to see regularly how much I am spending, and how much I don’t need to be spending, is an empowering reminder of my general financial position.

And now, to the more heart-warming statistics: the side hustle. This second half of 2017 is a lucrative time for earning money on the side – I’ve picked up two tutoring students of a weekend. I also have begun teaching at the university, which has given me a new lease on life, and love of the law. Total side hustle earnings were rounded out by a handful of Etsy sales, and cashing out some Swagbucks. In total, my sidehustle increased my total income for August by 11%, which I’m pretty thrilled with. The side hustle bank account is looking healthy again, and I’ve earmarked that money for the long list of wedding extravagances that I spend hours lusting after.

September will be the real test of my ability to commit to some pretty stringent living. I kicked it off in spectacularly inconsistent fashion by going to a ball and doing a wedding hair trial, as well as splurging on a bottle of Veuve to celebrate some huge life milestones of my very dear friends. All of this was fun, fabulous and (mostly) prepared for; but it is a long month, and there are a lot of shiny distractions waiting for me. I anticipate my key stumbling blocks to be eBay (clothing addiction), my 10 year high school reunion (how did that happen??) and a family weekend in Adelaide. In the end, the goal is to save 40% of my salaried income (side hustle is a bonus). Looking forward to updating you next month!

 

 

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Point Redemption / Freebie Round-Up

One of my favourite things in the whole world is a good old bargain. I love walking away having purchased an item that has been discounted, preferably twice, and heavily. I love collecting points – it would be fair to say that I dedicate well over 70% of my wallet real estate to all loyalty cards I can get my hands on. I’m a sucker for a free gift with purchase. And I especially love layering up points, freebies and discounts to maximise each dollar I spend.

I’ve written before about my point-collecting obsession, and how it has paid off in flight to Melbourne to visit my childhood bestie and maid-of-honour, as well as four upgrades on a mega-haul return flight to the United States. Of course, I don’t limit my point-collecting to Qantas (although a more comfortable flight experience is what dreams are made of). My primary sources of point-collecting options extends to Flybuys, the MyerOne program, the Priceline Sisterhood and Swagbucks. It doesn’t stop there – I am often sourcing coffee shop loyalty cards (although only when I’m buying coffee, which has currently been cut to once a week #weddingbudget) and checking out what freebies I can get through my health fund.

It’s been a particularly successful few months in my magpie-tendency to collect shiny points and turn them in to benefits, and I thought it was high time I did a round up! Note that earning points is only a benefit if you are buying the things or spending the money anyway. Buying things merely for the sake of earning points (unless it’s a judicious choice – see more below) is a great way to let the big bad corporates win. But on to happier things – like free stuff!

Flybuys Cash-In

Alongside my Qantas point habit, I’ve been extremely dedicated to beefing up my Flybuys account. To do so, I’ve made a point of using the hard copy vouchers that are mailed to you each quarter (although I always go through the self-serve check out when I use them because for some reason, I feel slightly ashamed), which typically get you bonus points – either a 1000 point bonus or triple point bonus on your total shop, with individual bonuses for particular product purchases. I’ve also jumped on board checking the Flybuys website about once a week. By logging in, you are given plenty of online bonus offers.

This month, the Flybuys points total added up to 10,000 points, which I cashed in for a $50 Coles voucher. This kept my groceries to an even $0 for the week (hooray!). My new goal is to collect enough Flybuys points to convert into Coles vouchers to make our annual Thanksgiving extravaganza dinner free. So I am secretly regretting spending the $50 voucher already, but hey – free money is free money no matter when you spend it.

Thanks to religiously checking the Flybuys website, I have amassed 4000 points in the last three weeks. This is mainly due to buying a $30 Dymocks voucher, which generated a 2000 point bonus. Of course, this appears to break my cardinal rule of not spending purely for the sake of points; however, first, 2000 points is equivalent to $10 in a Coles voucher, so the Dymocks voucher has an actual value of $20. Second, with all the birthday events coming up over the next few months, I will benefit from being organised and being rewarded for my spend (since I often buy people books for their birthday anyway). Extra bonus, I have a Dymocks loyalty voucher (are you surprised?) so I can collect points on whatever I purchase with this Dymocks voucher, which can go towards a future book purchase.

So, pro-tip: check out the Flybuys store relatively regularly, and make sure you activate the offers that work for you and suit your spending. The points will add up fast!

Priceline Sisterhood Points Redemption

This particular redemption was quite a nice surprise! The Priceline Sisterhood membership used to be a real pain – I was never able to find my card, and there was no way to look up a member online, or collect the points by calling in later with your receipt (yes, I actually do that). It’s significantly improved in recent months, particularly since you no longer have to wait for any hard copy reward to be mailed to you – they tell you right at the counter when you scan your card whether you have points to redeem! Thanks to my skincare rehaul, I’ve been making a few trips to Priceline over the last five months. It has been worth every cent, as  my skin is clearer and more hydrated than it has ever been. Plus, when I recently went back to buy a new tube of Hydroluron ($35 / tube), I was informed at the counter I had $22.46 I could redeem against my purchase. Best surprise ever!

While I do love Priceline, I am focussing more of my non-high end beauty spend at Coles now, to concentrate my point-collecting to Flybuys. However, there are still products that are only available at Priceline, so I’ll continue to scan my card when I go – just not as frequently as I have been.

MyerOne

MyerOne is just so ubiquitous. I literally don’t know a soul who doesn’t have a MyerOne card. Weirdly, I wouldn’t say I spend a huge amount at Myer, but the points had obviously added up and I had a $20 voucher arrive in the mail. I am hoarding this one until my Clinique Take the Day Off runs out. I absolutely love this product, so will always repurchase, but at a cool $50 a pop, any discount never goes astray. I also am not loyal in my purchasing location for Clinique – it is available across many online stores, as well as at big department stores, and typically has the same price tag, give or take a few dollars which is mitigated by shipping costs. As a result, I just purchase at whatever location rewards me best at the time I’m restocking – for a great example, see my next item!

David Jones Clinique Freebie

I don’t typically shop at David Jones – primarily because I don’t think I’m classy enough (yep). However, I also hate that they don’t have a loyalty program separate from having a store credit card. But, I had been hanging out to purchase the Clinique Extra Moisture Thirst Surge moisturiser, ever since my friend gifted me a sample a few months ago, but didn’t want to part with the $60 for a tub for nothing. Fate shined down on me, and David Jones was running a promotion where if you spent $60, you got a free nine-piece cosmetic bag of samples, which conveniently included a sample of the moisturiser, and the hydrating masque I had hoped to try at some point. Of course, I didn’t stop at the free sample bag – I also requested some samples of one of the cleansers I wanted to try.

Entertainment Book & Crown Towers

The Entertainment Book is, in my humble opinion, an absolute must buy. It offers a tonne of discounts across a variety of services, including retail and travel. This month, I was particularly enamoured with both spending our wedding night at Crown Towers, as well as getting ready for the wedding at the hotel with my maid of honour and mum. Booking through the Entertainment Book got the total price for two nights down by over $150.

Kikki.K Voucher

This one isn’t strictly a points-collecting scheme, but it does show the power of the consumer, and the importance of asking! I received a beautiful leather Kikki.K handbag for my birthday last year. While the bag itself remains in amazing condition, the colour leather on the handles has completely worn away – and this had happened within the first three months of getting the bag. Initially I didn’t do anything at all about it, but it was really starting to bother me that the body of the bag was beautiful, but the overall look was completely undermined when I put the bag down as the handles are so gross. I am a (scarily loyal) Kikki.K customer, and always have my membership noted when I purchase. Annoyingly, you don’t collect points, but I have received a lot of extra freebies for my insistence on spending all my money there, so you know, it probably all comes out in the wash. I contacted the customer service line, explained what had happened, and as the bag is no longer available and no replacement could be provided, I was given a  $70 Kikki.K voucher to compensate. I’m pretty thrilled, since I had been eyeing off a new travel wallet (mine has endured 7 years of exchange, long-distance relationships and general travel obsession and is literally threadbare), but couldn’t justify the cost – typically around $70! Of course, I’ll be waiting until the travel wallets go on sale, since this is far from an urgent purchase, to maximise the value of my bonus $70. But there you have it – ask, and ye is much more likely to receive.

So there you have it! A pretty decent haul, adding up to around $312 in value + a free cosmetic bag with samples. Everything I spent to gain these rewards I had planned for, or fits within my financial rules for the rest of the year.

Oh! And I forgot – I also redeemed two free coffees with some loyalty cards I’d hoarded in my wallet, which was a nice top off to a successful few months.

Like anything, incurring these rewards takes a bit of thought, planning and research. Of course, you can just scan your cards as and when you remember, and the points will eventually add up, and that’s great! But if you’re willing to put in the time, you can really make these programs work for you.

April Monthly Challenge: Cash crash diet

April has rolled around. I’ve been dreading it for quite some time, but unsurprisingly, all the dread and fret and worry in the world did not stop time passing, and here we are. The month where my fiance and I have put ourselves into the position of doing long-distance again, for four months until I sneak over for a three week holiday. To distract me from this horrible future, I have set myself a financial monthly challenge, inspired by an article I saw bouncing around the internet recently: I’m going to live on $60 a week, also known as the cash crash diet.

Why am I doing this? There are many reasons, as always.

Solo living is expensive

One necessary outcome of my fiance heading to the United States, and me continuing to rent our apartment, is that there is one less Australian stream of income, and 50% more of living costs to cover. I do not intend skipping any rent payments or missing any bills, and unfortunately my trusty and reliable team account contributor will be making the wrong kind of dollars. So, how I arrange my money is going to take some planning and practice, and the main way I see forward is to start with a very tight belt.

Wedding saving!

I may also have mentioned there is a wedding to pay for in December. We have been fortunate to have very generous parents contributing. However, I’ve been dreaming of this wedding of mine for quite some time, and it is not going to be cheap. Every bit of cash I can squirrel away now results in significantly less stress later.

Learning to be content with less

I often spend to solve my problems. I’m feeling sad – I’ll buy myself a treat. I’m feeling stressed – I’ll buy the latest mindfulness or stress-reduction technique. I’m feeling overwhelmed – I’ll buy new stationery to organise my office. I want to be more stylish – I buy new clothes. None of these steps are necessary or important. In fact, they’re expensive, and are a band-aid over the real issues. This month will be packed with challenging scenarios, and I want to push myself and prove to myself that I am capable of dealing with them, while sticking to the bigger picture.

So this is all very nice. But how will I do it?

Withdraw the cash

Every Monday I’ll withdraw $60 from the ATM on the way to work. Then, when I run out of that $60, that’s it, until the next Monday. This will form a visual reminder of how much I’m able to spend.

Define the bounds of the challenge

This $60 is intended to cover all non-essential or non-budgeted spend for the week. Not included in the $60 is my Netflix, Classpass, Headspace and BBG payments, as well as standard spends such as rent and groceries. I’m also allowing myself a haircut.

Included is takeaway coffee, meals out, treats (including those pesky creme eggs that I can’t seem to resist), entertainment, stationery, clothes, shoes, make-up, skincare (the real test, I desperately want to get a face oil but I don’t need it yet), and any other thing that I don’t absolutely require to get me out of bed and to work, and back again.

Make it possible

I’ve set up a basic notebook where I will write down everything I spend. I’ve also written in that notebook all the things I can do when I feel like spending money. The list is so long: go for a walk, catch up on my Project Life scrapbook, catch up on my 365 daily journalling, write my April letter of the day, practice brush script lettering, go visit my dog, go to the gym, go to a Classpass class, do the ironing, find a new recipe for the week, get on top of wedding planning, deep clean the apartment (I’m ashamed of how badly it needs it), declutter and sell items on eBay, go to the library, read my backlog of paperbacks, do a yoga class on youtube, write an article, write a blog post… seriously I couldn’t write fast enough to keep up with my ideas. It was a fresh reminder of the fact that these ideas exist even when I have cash I think I can burn.

So, wish me luck! Have you ever done a cash crash diet? I’d love to know any tips you have to survive!

Personal finance: Sweating the small stuff

I absolutely adore personal finance blogs. When I’m looking to curl up into a nook of the internet for a few hours, they’re my first port of call; I’m obsessed with reading about tips for saving, frugal living, paying down debt, planning for retirement. Initially I wanted to run a personal finance blog, with my own take on all of these topics.However when planning what I would write, I realised how totally out of my depth I was; I’m a half-assed saver, I live in a magical universe where I have no debt (standard millenial receiving extremely-appreciated support from my family through uni), and I still have zero idea what I want from my life, despite being 2.5 years into a legal career.

Felt even more acutely is my total inability to curb my big-ticket spending. I’ve been reflecting on this a lot lately. I generally stick closely to the standard tenets of a thrifty life, like packing my lunch and healthy snacks during the week, spending my weekends meal prepping, curbing how much I spend on takeaway coffee, not drinking at bars (also read as being a nanna), borrowing books from the library rather than buying them and living in a location where I can walk most places or take free public transport. However these small wins over the course of a week are quickly outweighed by the huge losses of impulse buying.

I also have a personal definition of impulse buying. Rarely is the thing I’m impulse buying not well thought through. Typically I find the product online and obsess about it. I save it to wish lists, and do daily procrastination check-ins on price and availability… or just to look at it. I’ll ponder on it for a month, or more. Obsess, obsess, ponder, and reject. Then one day – boom, buy. So my impulse buying is more obsessive-stalkerish than  My Garmin Fenix is a perfect example of that – I’d been desperately wanting one for 8 months, thinking about it, looking at it online, searching for the best price, and then telling myself it’s an outrageous outlay. Then one day (okay, my birthday, the most dangerous of treat yo’self events), I just decided I was going to buy it. No saving or planning, or sacrificing other things. I just found it for a slightly better price than normal, added it to my basket and pressed ‘buy’. My Amex was debited $660, and I had an absolutely beautiful watch in my hand a few days later. (I don’t regret the purchase at all, but more on that in another post).

Trying to recover $660 from my budget by not buying a $4 coffee or bringing my lunch to work is just impossible. So is the amount I outlayed on participating in a handmade market this past weekend. Or the amount I want to spend on two absolutely beautiful work blouses I found online to replace my very gross ones. Or the amount I need to spend as a bridesmaid in my friend’s upcoming wedding. Or the entry fees to upcoming triathlons I want to participate in. Or the new desk stationery I want to purchase. These are inevitable impulse purchases for me, but ones I know that my day to day behaviour can’t accommodate for.

And that is why I could be a personal finance blogger. I sweat the small stuff, and am wilfully blind to the big. I’m a living and breathing embodiment of the penny-wise pound-foolish philosophy. I battle with the competing desires of embracing a life of less expenses, particularly expenses wasted on things I know I don’t want, and spending on my (very wide) array of hobbies – crochet, running my etsy store, triathlons, fitness/activewear, stunning stationery, and generally keeping up with the latest activity trends.

I’m feeling very reflective on this topic, and I think it’s something that’s worth exploring further. I’m back on board with tracking my fritter expenses, which will provide a great insight into what’s going on and what my triggers are. I’m very confident it’s hobbies, but we’ll see how true that is!

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.

 

Visiting a Financial Planner

Okay so I finally did it. I went to a free initial consult with a financial planner. I’ve been trying to get this element of my overall ‘rehaul your financial education!’ gameplan moving for a few months now, but thanks to a lot of bank crap (the Commonwealth Bank truly is the absolute worst), it was proving very difficult. I finally ditched the bank route and struck out to an independent financial planning consultant that I picked thanks to a quick google as to what was near me.

After doing a quick online survey providing some key information about the current status of our finances (read: no debt, a little savings of around $25k), the consultant got in touch and made a lunch time appointment to meet for an initial chat. This initial chat proved to be a weird combination of really interesting and kind of pointless.

I met with a man who spoke very slowly, which oddly and unfairly is a trait that can really irritate me. However, he was very kind, and took everything I said seriously, unlike Commonwealth Bank who considered me to be a complete idiot. We had an awkward handshake and sat in a meeting room, making weird small talk for a little while and I was generally feeling a bit confused about what I’m doing. He then ran through our current financial and life status. Speaking some of the information out loud to a disinterested but expert stranger was surprisingly beneficial, and I learned a lot about the very large gaps in our life goal-setting.

I then had to sit through a powerpoint presentation – a pretty strange process to be honest, since I was the only person in the room. It was a very insightful and useful guide, but in some ways I felt as though I was being talked down to, which is another trait I detest in people. However, the financial planner was a very earnest type; he was direct, and was pretty honest about the fact that we needed to tie this general “we want a financial plan!” to a tangible and emotional goal, such as buying a house, or our imaginary children’s education, or an epic international holiday, and then work backwards from there to setting up various options to match our goals. So I forgave him the talking down, and even believed him when he told me that he knew he wanted to be a financial planner since he was nine years old.

Once we got through the various pieces of the financial puzzle – budget, debt minimisation, wealth growth, wealth protection, tax efficacy and estate planning, we got to the hard stuff. To really formulate a plan we could believe in and commit to, we needed to hammer out our life goals. That would require clearly identifying what we wanted, the associated dollar value and timelines for those things – all topics that we have kind of bounced around without head-on addressing for all kinds of reasons.But these things are extremely doable.

However the big red flag was the quoted $3,000 price tag. I completely understand that the financial planner is an expert, with expert knowledge, and that expert knowledge deserves payment. But it doesn’t necessarily deserve my payment, particularly $3,000 of my money. That is a petrifyingly high amount of money, when our total net worth isn’t even enough to put a deposit on a home.

So, while I’m glad I did it, and I’m glad I met a very nerdy financial planner, we have opted out of the professional route and decided todo the work ourselves. We have a budget, so our focus now is wealth growth. The word ‘wealth’ feels like a bit of a lol, since I relate wealth to legitimately rich people, or people who are much older than I am, and as I am neither rich nor older than I currently am (obvi), I feel no right to be using the word ‘wealth’ in relation to my dollars. However, I suppose the long-term goal is wealth, to whatever dollar or lifestyle value that may be, and there is a lot to be said in using the right words for overwhelming concepts.

I still would recommend taking advantage of the typically free initial consult with a financial planner; there’s a lot to be said for starkly discussing your finances to a non-invested third party, and the accidental insight you get by having to cast a very in-depth spotlight into your financial life. But whether you’re comfortable for paying for an accompanying plan and the work is a different ballgame, and I would prefer the $3,000 in my pocket.

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!

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