Archive for the ‘General’ Category

A World of Pain

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2020

Australia holds the developed world record for the longest run of uninterrupted GDP growth. It’s 29 years since the last recession! We passed that 29 year mark just as COVID-19 hit.

Now we are screwed.

While we don’t know yet exactly how big a recession we are heading into, all the experts agree that the good times have come to a very sudden end. This means that anyone not old enough to have experienced the job market between 1991-94 is in for a real shock. Finding work during a recession can be bloody hard and demoralising. Money will be very tight for a lot of people and it could go on for some time.

So where do you go for good information on money that you can trust?

Three places:  1) – the federal government website (even if you don’t trust the government, you can trust this site).

2) Your local library for a copy of The Barefoot Investor, or if your library is closed you can find it online for about $20.

3) Financial Freedom – yes, I know, shameless self-promotion. But it’s free, ad free and packed with everything you could need to help you through these tough times.

2016 Changes

Tuesday, January 5th, 2016

One of the biggest changes to financial legislation that kicked in on January 1, 2016 is a change that will negatively affect bugger all people. But I am really, really glad these people will be put out.

Like most of the population, I accept that there are people in society who are a great deal smarter than me. They have cool qualifications, conduct important research and have a profound impact on all of us. They’re called scientists.

Scientists do research in areas like vaccinations, studying in great detail the intricacies of disease and herd immunity so that you and I can go about our day safe in the knowledge that we probably won’t catch Polio before dinnertime.

Scientists debunk myths created by homeopaths about how watering down a substance makes it more potent (homeopaths must be completely baffled by the concept of making cordial). Scientists also debunk myths created by scaremongers about vaccines causing conditions such as autism.

Occasionally, sensible politics prevails where politicians actually accept what the scientists say, like about how important immunisations are to the health of children and society as a whole. And sometimes these politicians get rid of loopholes that give benefits to people who really don’t deserve them. That’s what happened at the chime of midnight on January 1st.

When your child attends day care you are required to show that they are fully immunised before you can receive the childcare rebate and childcare benefit. Previously, parents who were “contentious objectors” to vaccinations for their child could send them to day care without the kid being fully immunised, yet the parents could still get the full rebate and benefit available to sensible parents. In 2016 I am very happy to say that is no longer the case.

It’s a win for parenting, a win for scientists and a win for politicians who need to reduce spending wherever possible to help bring a budget back into balance.

After all, every dollar that is not spent on rebates and benefits is a dollar that can go into pay rises for politicians.

Change Your Future

Wednesday, October 21st, 2015

How many times have you wished you could go back to some point in the past and do something different, like wished you could tell someone you loved them one last time, accepted a job offer that you knocked back or never smoked that first cigarette?

While very few of us own a DeLorean with Flux Capacitor capable of taking us back to a previous point in time, plenty have longed for the equivalent of a sports almanac to make a pile of money. (Yes, I’m watching Back To The Future II as I’m writing this!) While it’s not possible to go back in time and tell your younger self to invest a few grand in the world’s best investments it is possible to change your future. And it’s pretty simple.

It involves getting off your bum and doing what you wished you’d done years ago – sorting out your finances. It’s never too late to start and you have everything to gain.

If you regret not getting your act together years ago, imagine how you’ll feel years from now if you don’t make a positive change today.

The Fine Print

Thursday, June 12th, 2014

When is a $50 gift voucher not a $50 gift voucher? When you don’t read the fine print.

Gift vouchers; they’re pretty handy things (read: acceptable gift for someone who is too hard to buy for, or when you don’t know exactly what they could do with). When friends of ours had a baby recently we decided that a gift voucher to purchase baby related stuff would be a good idea.

We have found that the baby clothes at Target are fairly priced and of a decent quality so we went there and looked at a stand of cards, coming across the one pictured below. It’s a $50 prepaid Target Visa debit gift card and, as it’s a debit card, can be used in any store that accepts Visa. I was close to grabbing it and taking it to the registers for authentication when I read the fine print. Apart from the fact it expires in only eight months, the “card purchase fee” is nearly 12% of the value of the card. I left it on the stand, right below the sign that says: “Target. Get more. Pay less.”

Target Visa debit card

A couple of metres further away was another stand with more cards on it, including standard Target gift cards (valid only in Target stores but expiring a full two years after purchase). For $50 you get $50 worth.

Just goes to show that you should always read the fine print.


Don’t Eat The Marshmallow

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

Back when I wrote the Kids And Money chapter, I searched high and low to find an appropriate book to have as a resource for readers to get further information from. I quickly discovered there is bugger all around written to show Aussie parents how to raise financially smart kids. Sure, there is unspecific crap written by ordinary authors like Robert Kiyosaki (the guy who wrote Rich Dad, Poor Dad) and plenty of material aimed at adults who want to know how to handle their own money. But as far as stuff written for mums and dads go it’s pretty thin on the ground.

This was all before I had heard of Victorian dad Robert Bihar. I’ve just read Bihar’s book Don’t Eat the Marshmallow which contains gems like “Don’t complain about your job in front of your kids” (Bihar argues that parents who pass on the message of not liking their job inadvertently also pass on a negative message about money to their kids if the children understand that money comes from work), “Do not teach that your kids that money is the only way to measure success – teach them that what they do with their money is more important”, and a tip that could be straight out of a Captain Financior video – “If your kids saw you pack a healthy lunch to take to work every day they might do the same. You could even make the sandwiches together and get them to choose what goes in them. In modelling your behaviour, your kids would spend less at the school canteen, but more importantly they will learn the value of healthy eating.”

If you thought Bihar and I were singing from the same song sheet, you’d be spot on.

Despite what my wife may sarcastically say to me, I don’t have all the answers (for the record, I don’t pretend to and I also accept that Claudia is right more often than I am, even when she’s not), but I do have a good idea where to find them. Don’t Eat The Marshmallow is another place to find more of those answers.

Bihar has self-published his book so you may struggle to find it in a library, but if you have $20 you can buy one via his website.

Ps As with every book, website or business I recommend, there is no kickback of any kind that Claudia or myself receive from recommending this book.

Do You Know What You’re Signing Up For?

Saturday, July 27th, 2013

Just about every piece of software you download these days requires you to click on the “I agree” button before you can access it. Those guys have really got the public over a barrel – if you don’t click, you don’t receive.

Being asked to sign paperwork can be similar but with one big difference: you can choose to cross words out. Before you sign a contract to buy a house it’s a really smart idea to employ a professional to look over the documentation for you first. It’s the job of a solicitor or conveyancer to read the contract and let you know if it contains anything dodgy. Sure, you can do this yourself but of you miss something you’re on your own. It’s quite common for a contract to be sent back from the buyer’s solicitor to the vendor (house seller) with a paragraph or two crossed out. As everybody knows, buying a house is a big financial decision and you want to make sure that everything in that contract is exactly as it should be.

But what about all the other things you sign. Do you read every word in a credit card contract, your employment contract, your electricity supply contract and everything else you are asked to sign before you scribble your John Doe? You should.

This week I was asked to sign a form before I went to do a job for work *Spoiler alert! If you don’t know what sort of work I do, read the Introduction to the Financial Freedom For Gens X and Y course first.* The job was covering a visit by the Attorney General to an event where the Department of Defence was carrying out explosions. The paperwork that had to be signed before we were allowed access to the site read as follows:

            I………….(insert full name) HEREBY UNDERTAKE that I will at all times hereafter will and sufficiently indemnify the Department and the Commonwealth and keep them indemnified against all actions, suits, proceedings, claims and demands which may be brought, made or prosecuted against the Department or the Commonwealth arising out of death or injury caused to me in any circumstances whatsoever or any claim made against the Department or the Commonwealth in respect of my attendance to the said demonstration.

Then there was a space to sign as well as a space for it to be witnessed.

I’m no lawyer, but to me that may as well have read:

            If we stuff up and you are injured or killed in one of our explosions, neither you nor your family can sue us. In fact, if you are injured or killed on our plot due to any stuff up of ours (including stepping on a live electrical wire or being run over by us) you still can’t sue.

I refused to sign and the Attorney General’s visit wasn’t covered. However, I did wonder if Australia’s top legal bloke was asked to sign the same document.

Time To Celebrate

Sunday, June 30th, 2013

It’s New Year’s Eve and time to pop the champers! Ok, so it might not be the NYE you would usually celebrate and I doubt crowds are gathering in Times Square, but it’s the day before the new financial year and there is a bit to get happy about.


As of tomorrow, the superannuation for all employees earning more than $450 a month will go up a bit. Today you get 9% of your pay going into super, tomorrow it rises to 9.25%. Doesn’t seem like much, but it will mean a difference of several thousand dollars by the time you get to spend it. The plan is for your super to go up to 12% by mid 2019, so you can expect at least an extra $100,000 more in your nest egg than what it would’ve been before the increase starts.


Tomorrow also sees the introduction of laws governing payments to financial planners. If you make an appointment with a planner from Monday, they can no longer accept payment in the form of commissions from investments that they recommend to you. For decades there has been a big conflict of interest for a financial planner who takes commissions from fund managers. Why would they recommend you put your dosh in an investment that they wouldn’t receive money from? Well, the simple answer is that they should have been advising what you do based on what is in your best interests, not based on what is best to line their pockets. Now financial planners are much more conflict-free (but not entirely as the system still isn’t perfect, but it’s a hell of a lot better).


As with everything related to money, there’s a catch. Both these news changes depend on the Rudd government being re-elected. Tony Abbott has been saying for years that he will overturn the laws that see financial planners being made more accountable. And recently he announced that super payments made on behalf of millions of Aussies will be frozen at 9.25% for two years. Given that he has said in parliament that he believes superannuation to be a con job, my fear is that he would freeze contributions at that level indefinitely, as John Howard did when he became Prime Minister.


So you’d better get blotto while you can as the hangover may be a doozy.

Gambling Love

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

You might have noticed the topic of gambling in the news lately (it’s pretty hard not to see Tom Waterhouse’s face fake-smiling like a campaigning politician on your telly at the moment). Most of the coverage of the live betting stuff has been filled with people united on their annoyance/disgust at seeing a footy game plastered with the latest match odds. There’s certainly been an explosion over the last couple of years in the amount of gambling advertising we see, and you could be forgiven for thinking that online and live sports betting was the biggest chunk of gambling problems in Australia. But you’d be wrong.


The amount lost on the pokies in Australia makes online gambling look tiny. The main reason so much goes into the one arm bandits is because of the way they rope people in and get them hooked. Addiction to the poker machines is as real as an addiction to a drug, and many pokies addicts describe “the zone” that people go into when they play them. It’s like a focus on the machine that’s so strong that players are only semi-aware of what’s going on around them. A mate of mine experienced the apathy of players who were in “the zone” on the weekend.


Adam and a few mates had just arrived at a club and were in the pokies area when he saw a middle aged woman start to stumble. She then fell, arms by her side, hitting her head hard on the ground as nothing cushioned the blow.


Being first aid trained, Adam immediately went to her assistance and talked to her to see if would respond. She didn’t and was frothing at the mouth and shaking, suffering an epileptic fit. As Adam and his mates cleared the area of stools so the patient wouldn’t hurt herself, they were stunned that nobody else helped. Nobody playing a poker machine stopped playing to render assistance, a few turned their heads briefly to take a look.


But the really ugly part of this experience was when the club employee called an ambulance only to have the woman’s mother say “Don’t worry, this happens every time we come here.” The mother stopped playing the pokies long enough to address the gathered first aiders and to retrieve her daughter’s handbag, before trying for the next jackpot.


I’m no medical expert but I imagine that the flashing lights of the machines may be a trigger for the woman’s fits, and that it would probably be a good idea for her to stay away. The fact that this lady’s mother didn’t seem to give a rat’s about the size of the egg that had appeared on her daughter’s face has all the hallmarks of an addiction being a greater pull on her than the concern for her own flesh and blood.

Who’s Watching Your Money?

Saturday, May 4th, 2013

I learned today of a shocking case of conduct on the part of a debt recovery agency which borders on theft and invasion of privacy.

A friend of mine, Narelle* recently discovered an amount of $600 missing from her Westpac bank account that didn’t make sense to her as to who had taken it and why. A few enquiries later and it turns out that her husband, Gary*, had been driving a tad too quickly (5kph over the limit) in Sydney. Five years ago.

Unbeknownst to Narelle and Gary, the speeding fine had been sent to their old address so the first they knew about it was only a couple of days ago. The authority that issued it had made no attempt to contact them other than, presumably, to mail a reminder that they had not paid the original $200ish fine. After a while the authority had passed the matter on to a debt recovery agency.

You’d reckon that at this point the debt collector would’ve made a rude phone call or Googled them and sent a message via Facebook to track Narelle and Gary down to get the money back. Nope. It seems that the agency sat and waited, watching Narelle’s bank account ready to pounce.

The thing is, not only have this lovely couple not had a run in with a debt recovery agency before, but they’re pretty good with their money. Narelle’s account is set up to transfer her pay over to their mortgage as soon as the dosh hits her account. They’d had this arrangement for several years and it pretty much always meant that she had next to nothing in her account.

Then one day recently that changed when they sold some shares, depositing the money into Narelle’s account. Taking their opportunity, the debt recovery firm suddenly pounced and withdrew $600 without Narelle’s knowledge or permission. How the hell the law allows any individual or company to monitor someone’s bank account without the account holder’s prior knowledge or permission, let alone withdraw money, is beyond me. And why Westpac allows customers’ accounts to be monitored without letting them know an outside organisation is wanting to track them down also makes no sense. But the debt collection agency has rudely informed Narelle that if she wants to contest it that she must prove that she and Gary never received the original fine in the mail and that they’d better get a lawyer.

So it’s now up to Gary and Narelle to either spend an unknown amount of money to fight the case, or have a black mark on their credit file for the next five years that’s not their fault.

Oh, and the agency also says that because Westpac charges a $13 withdrawal fee, Narelle and Gary have to cough up to cover this fee too.

*Names have been changed for privacy.

Wouldn’t It Be Nice?

Friday, February 22nd, 2013

Wouldn’t it be nice to win a million dollars? Well, if you believe the Lotto people, it would change your life so that your dreams came true. Of course, that’s bullshit.

Watching one of the weekly lotto draws on the telly last night, I thought how many people there must be who are glued to this advertisement, same time, each and every week. It hit me that there are literally millions of Aussies who spend more time every week trying to win the “big one” than they do sorting out their finances. This doesn’t make much sense to me.

Think about it for a minute – how many people do you know who have played Lotto (well, I say play, but it’s not really a fun game if you lose every week is it)? Now think about how many people you know who’ve won. Personally I know a large number of people who have lost a lot of money and one person who won an amount that was equal to her mortgage. She was smart and paid it off. And there was a former colleague of mine who correctly picked four or five lotto numbers and ended up winning less than the cost of the ticket.

If all those yet-to-win-lotto players (let’s call them losers) were to spend a little bit of time every week dedicated to their personal finances, they could start to change their situation to the point where playing lotto wouldn’t matter. It doesn’t take a full on dedication to watching the markets and studying a real estate website to start to get ahead. Just the desire to improve your circumstances, the right knowledge and a small amount of time regularly devoted to it.

And if you swap buying lotto tickets for getting your financial life organised, you’ll end up saving a truckload of cash that you can spend the rest of your life.