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  • Published: 21 May 2024
  • ISBN: 9781761347719
  • Imprint: Penguin Life
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 336
  • RRP: $32.99

Money Diaries with She’s on the Money

The power in rewriting your money story


The Pressure to Be Perfect

This money diarist recently quit a toxic but well-paying tech job to run a small property business with her dad. She's just 24 years old, has already bought her first home and, although you might think it sounds all peaches and cream, as a first-generation immigrant she still struggles with comparing herself to her peers who've followed more traditional career paths. Has she made the right call?


The first question I always ask is what grade you'd give your money habits?

I think I'd give myself a B. I'm good, but could be better.


Can you tell us a little bit more about your money story?

I'm a first-generation immigrant and grew up without much money at all. I moved here from China with my mum and dad when I was five. I couldn't speak English and, without the help of some really nice ESL teachers, I would've been way out of my depth. But it's probably easier coming to a new country as a young child because you're like a sponge and just soak everything up. Within a couple of years, I was like any other kid in the playground, but those first years were really tough, especially for my parents. They were both uni educated, but when they came here they basically had to start from scratch. They were working in factories and doing delivery driver jobs and trying to earn an income to support the three of us.

When we first moved here we were living in a tiny flat, sleeping on a mattress on the floor. It was bare bones at that time, but being a small kid you don't really notice that sort of thing – being with your mum and dad is all that matters. I also remember, despite being in a not-so-great area of town, we had really lovely neigh­ bours. Most of them were immigrants as well and they would leave me second-hand toys and books outside our front door. So my first impression was that this place is great: people just give me free stuff! I think they felt sorry for us. Despite not having much themselves, they were all still willing to band together as a community and make the newcomers' lives a bit easier, which I find really heart-warming.

My parents worked really hard and their hard work paid off because they started a wholesale imports business and bit by bit it started to grow, until eventually it was able to sustain our family. But it wasn't until I was well into my late teens that my family's financial situation really improved. By then, my siblings were sent to private schools and we took family holidays every year. But growing up, I did not have any of those privileges.

I have one sister who is four years younger, my other sister's eight years younger, and my little brother's 12 years younger. Because of the way that my parents hustled – head down, making just enough money to survive and put food on the table – I grew up with the motto that money's meant to be saved, not spent. And if it is spent, then it should be on necessities only, which I guess is a solid mindset. But it affected me later on when I had my own money. I would get spending anxiety even about necessities like bills or groceries or food. I'd put off paying bills to the last day, for example, just to stretch the money out, even though I knew I'd eventually have to pay it.

She's on the Money

Spending anxiety is really common among people  on the who haven't come from money. When they finally do get it, they find it really hard to part with and can feel especially guilty spending money onthemselves. Such anxiety can become crippling and it certainly doesn't put you in the best possible financial position.

Rationally, if I sat you down when a bill arrived, you'd agree it would be best to pay it. You'd be like, absolutely, Victoria, get it off my plate! Yet, internally, you have this mental anguish playing against that. You're thinking, but if I pay it, the money's out of my account – and what if something happens and I need the money for something?

This is where setting up an emergency fund can be so useful. It creates a buffer, which not only gives you that feeling of security, but also helps you get on with managing the rest of your finances sensibly. No more late fees or interest penalties and, most importantly, it brings you peace of mind.

What do you do for work and what's your income?

I used to earn over $125,000 a year in a tech company, but today I run a small property management business with my dad. He's my sole business partner. We specialise in short-term and vacation rentals and we help our clients with everything, from setting up their property and marketing it, to managing the bookings, guests and housekeeping. Because it's just the two of us, we wear a lot of hats.

I currently pay myself $55,000 plus super, plus a 10 per cent profit share. Although that's what we have agreed on paper, I'm actually thinking of putting that 10 per cent back into the business, because at this point, investing in the business and helping it grow is my priority. With the way I live, even after taking a pay cut, I'm able to maintain my current lifestyle.


It would have been a big shift moving from a good income and job security. What made you change careers and how did you feel about going out on your own?

I definitely wasn't feeling confident about it at the start. Doubts came up, but after talking to mentors and other people who have run businesses, I realised that 'imposter syndrome' is quite common. To keep it manageable, I calculated the amount I would need to live on and cut down a lot of my expenses. I moved from my very nice apartment in the city into the suburbs where my partner lives. Sharing living costs has really helped with budgeting. I don't have a very glam life apart from taking a holiday every year – I'm not going out to fine dining or high-end places or shopping a lot. I'm lucky in that my lifestyle has always been quite manageable. The downside is, I'm not saving as much or investing as much, but I sort of think of it the other way around, which is that I'm investing in the business instead and it will deliver the biggest returns in the future.


Wow, how did you learn to structure a business in such a smart way? Most people just take cash out of the business to pay the bills, don't pay themselves super and are defi­ nitely not talking about profit share, especially this early on. Where's this come from? Why are you so smart?

It's a combination of my dad already having run a business in the past, albeit in a completely different industry. But he knew the process: setting up an ABN, setting up an ACN and all of that. He already had a business accountant, so we were able to tap into them too. Everything else came from researching, digging through Google, and also just from my past experiences – working in my day jobs since graduating. I've worked in marketing, I've worked in consulting, and most recently in tech. I observed the structure of those companies – some were large organisations, some were start-ups – and I was exposed to different areas in each business. The start-up, for example, had options for employees to buy shares and become part of the business and participate in their profit-share scheme. So I learnt a lot from experience, too.


Why property management?

When I left uni, dad bought an investment property that he wanted to live in after retirement and use occasionally as a holiday home. I helped him set up its online management and he asked me if I wanted to keep helping as a side hustle. The intention was for it to be 'set and forget' – just one property running itself without too much overhead, but I soon realised that there's a totally different level of risk running a short-stay rental versus a long-term lease. While a long-term lease is set and forget – you just want someone who pays the bills on time – with a short-stay rental there's communication with people coming in and out, organising housekeeping schedules, and marketing. In the high season you can attract more bookings, while in the low season you set different pricing strategies.

It was trial and error for the first few months, but we did well and were noticed by other property owners nearby who asked us if we'd manage their properties. So we started managing a few more. Once it started to grow, we realised our infrastructure was at breaking point. Our operating processes and procedures were bare bones, basically just an Excel spreadsheet with a bunch of random formulas that I made. I could have buffed up the tech more, but I was also juggling a full-time job, so I just didn't have the time or energy to do it. I was just bootstrapping for a while. Because my intention had always been to keep it as a humble side hustle, I didn't invest that much into it in the beginning.

The turning point was when the tech job I was in started getting toxic. The place was full of politics and a lot of red tape. It was a large organisation with a poor work culture and I was coming home mentally and emotionally drained every day. I knew it was bad, but at the same time I was getting paid a good salary! It took a lot of convincing from my partner, but finally I made the switch. I found it hard because, for a long time, I was still so focused on the money.


Earning $125,000 at age 23. I don't know if I could have walked away from that.

Yeah, exactly. But after being emotionally drained every day, I was wondering if it was actually worth it. I knew I didn't need a lot of money to just live my normal lifestyle. I was saving a lot, which was good, but at the end of the day, it wasn't the life that I wanted to lead. I finally realised that work-life balance and mental health were more important than reaching some really high, arbitrary income figure.


You learnt a lot about what you didn't like and what you wouldn't accept. Even though the experience didn't feel great, I'm sure it'll pay off in the future.

I look back and realise that I'd pinned a lot of my self-worth to my achievements and how much money I was making. It's really dangerous to think that way, especially if what you're doing no longer fulfils you. If you stay in a job you hate just for the money, your self-worth or your sense of self gets chipped away because it's so inextricably tied in your mind to your achievements.


I'm so excited that you made the change. Can you tell us a bit more about your big money goals?

My big money goal right now is purchasing our next home with my partner within four to five years. We already each own a property, but I'm hoping that by then we'll both have enough borrowing power and have saved enough to make that bigger purchase. We might have to sell one or both properties. Depends how we go.


Can you tell us about your investments?

I have one investment property that I bought about a year ago at a very low interest rate. I get about $20,000 in rental income every year. I'm really not looking forward to when the fixed-rate period runs out and I have to face reality!


How much did you have to save to purchase it and how did you decide that it was the right investment for you?

To be honest, I wasn't actively saving for this first home. I was living with my parents, which I'm super lucky to have done, and wasn't paying rent or bills, so I managed to save a 20 per cent deposit. The apartment was $570,000, so the deposit was just over $100,000. I was working part-time while I was at uni, so couldn't save all that much then, but then I went full-time and was still living at home for over two years. It was during the lockdown, so that was a massive help.

Even if I'd wanted to, there wasn't much I could have blown my money on. I know a lot of people suffered during lockdown, but I don't think I would've been able to save for a deposit otherwise. I wasn't really thinking about buying a property, but I'd saved all this money and the interest rates were really low. It was a big incentive to jump into the property market and I was encouraged by family who were saying that I had the cash and interest rates were low, so why not do it. I know there's risks to that as well, because they won't stay low forever, but it was a big motivator at the time.


So often, people are saving even though they don't know what for and then all of a sudden things fall into place. That's why we need consistent savings goals.


Do you have any other investments, if so, what are they and how did you get into them?

I invest in stocks – ETFs and shares – which I also started doing during lockdown. I've got about $22,000 in ETFs and shares. It's gone up a bit from the time I put it in, which was during the crash, so I've been lucky. I just researched articles online and asked friends and family what they were investing in.


And tell us about debts. Do you have any? If so, what are they?

I've got the mortgage on my property – I really should calculate how much my repayments will go up by and what impact that

will have on my lifestyle. I've just been putting it off because the thought seems very scary. I also have my HECS debt, although I'm not loving the indexation on that right now. Currently it's sitting at just over $8000.


What are your best money habits?

I think it's the combination of having a high interest bank account and a credit card. I use the credit as a financial tool and don't consider it as debt because I've never been late on a payment, plus I see the points I earn as free money. I have most of my money in a high interest bank account so I get the interest, but then I also get the credit card points. Right before my credit card bill is due, I pay it off in full so I don't get any fees. Because I accumulate a fair amount of points, I also get bonuses when I sign up for other cards. I've cashed out $400 or $500 worth of vouchers so far.


Money win, that's free money and a smart way to use a credit card. But we need to know, do you have any bad money habits?

Unfortunately, I do. My worst money habit is not really having a solid plan for investing. I get the basic concepts of putting money into shares, but I keep forgetting to do it regularly and don't have a solid strategy for doing it. So, for example, every time I've invested in shares, it's literally because I'll be having a conversation with family, or a friend, or my partner and suddenly remember, oh yeah, I have shares and should probably check in on them. It's been a while. And then I log on, and I might make one or two trades, and then I just forget about it for the next six months. I'm lucky in that, overall, I haven't made a loss, but there have definitely been certain stocks that haven't performed as well.


Do you still think your money grade is a B? And what would it take to get you to an A?

I think I'll upgrade it to a B plus because you've fluffed me up a little bit! To get to an A, I need a more solid plan for investing. I think my exposure to investing when I was younger was to focus on real estate, which is what our parents taught us, but it's not as feasible for me to just build a real estate empire. Other forms of investments, like shares, are a lot more accessible, so I feel like if I actually did more research into the share market and was more diligent with it I could get myself to an A.

Money Diaries with She’s on the Money Victoria Devine

Feel inspired, motivated and empowered to create the financial life you want. With page-turning stories from real people about their relationships with money, plus fun activities and quick tips to help transform your own money story, Money Diaries with She's on the Money is the enjoyable, useful finance book you need (and actually want)!

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