finance

'At 42, I went to see a financial advisor. It's transformed my relationship with money.'

Late last year, I knew something had to change. At 42, I had a great job in marketing and a glamorous lifestyle as a single woman in Sydney.

But behind it all, I was in credit card debt, had no assets beyond a sporty little car, and was worried about ending up penniless in retirement.

It felt overwhelming though. I felt stuck, and didn’t know how to get unstuck.

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My sister had seen a financial adviser a few years back and recommended I do the same.

I’ll be honest – I was hesitant.

First of all, I thought they were for rich people with cars and houses. Secondly, I thought it would be some glorified salesman selling me risky investments.

And deeper than that, I was afraid to draw back the curtain on my financial situation. I was nervous about being judged for the choices I’d made.

Originally from New Zealand, I’d lived a jet setting life in the UK, Middle East and now Australia. I hadn’t wanted to own a home because I didn’t want to be tied down.

But while I had great memories, I didn’t have much to show for it financially. I wanted to settle down and get serious about money.

I decided it was now or never. I logged onto the Financial Planning Association website, explained what I was looking for and asked for three advisers to contact me.

The first two were men, and I didn’t really vibe with them. But the third was Rachel O’Connor at Flourix Wealth, a down-to-earth adviser in Sydney who had set up her own business.

She seemed, well, like a normal person. She’s a working mum who lives in the real world, so I felt comfortable and didn’t feel like she was judging me.

The planning process

When I met with Rachel, she asked me about my financial situation in detail. We put it all on a page, including my income and debts.

She then asked me what I wanted from this whole process – which was just to get my debt down and have a plan for the future.

When we got deeper into it though, I realised I wanted more than that. I wanted to own my own apartment and create a home for someone special… my future dog.

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Yep, the thing I really want is a canine companion, and getting specific about that really helped me focus on my goals.

We then set up my bank accounts so I had a better idea of where my money was going. It was a simple process but gave me so much more control.

Then we hatched a plan for paying off my credit card debt, which would give me a blank slate to start saving.

I’d been thinking about selling my car, since I didn’t need it for my inner-city life. I did that and walked away with $20,000 in the bank.

In the past, I would have frittered it away by ‘treating myself’. But Rachel showed me how much impact it would have if I allocated it to my debts, and it felt good to make progress.

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The most powerful thing is having all the numbers in front of me, so I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I can see that with a bit more work, my debts will be paid off by July. Then I can put that money into saving, and down the track have the money for a home deposit. It’s all laid out so that it feels real and achievable.

The other important thing is that I don’t feel like I’m missing out. I know I can’t buy everything I want, but I can still buy some things.

After years of spending without much thought, it’s certainly not easy. But I’m retraining by brain to think about each purchase, and just like going to the gym, it gets easier over time.

A few months into this process, I feel good about my progress. The next stage will look at other aspects of my finances like superannuation, but I like that it’s broken down into manageable stages.

I also feel more secure having set up an emergency fund. For example, I have parents back in NZ and as they get older, I like knowing I have money set aside if I need to go and see them.

My advice about getting advice

If you’re in a similar situation, don’t let shame or embarrassment get in the way of taking action.

People don’t talk about their finances openly, and it means we sometimes get the wrong idea. We see other people’s lives and feel like they’re doing so much better than us.

But we don’t really know what they earn, what debts they have and how they paid for that holiday. Just like on Instagram, we only see a moment in time, whereas a financial adviser sees the whole picture and helps you make sense of it.

I’d also suggest that you interview a few advisers to make sure you get the right fit. Being on the same wavelength means you can be honest about your situation and your goals. Like any relationship, you want to find the right chemistry.

Finally, don’t assume you can’t afford advice. It might feel like a cost now, but if it helps you make better decisions, your future self will make that money back.

Feature image: Getty.

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