Real money talk: Alana

By Jessica Sier 19 February 2019 5 min read

This post is based on an interview we conducted with Alana in February 2019.

Real Money Talk is our series where we interview Australians from all walks of life about their personal finances. The views expressed are those of the interviewees, based on their experiences with money, and as such are not necessarily representative of Spaceship's views.

We have changed the name of the interviewee for their privacy, but it’s worth noting that the interviewee works at Spaceship.

Alana is a 35 year old, working professional living in Sydney. She has been on a rollercoaster ride, financially, since finishing high school.

At the time of writing, Alana is an investor in the Spaceship Universe Portfolio

Age: 35

Where do you live: Northern Sydney

How does your money break down?

Cash: 35%

Investments: 37%

Super: 28%

Any debts?

A small amount of credit card debt that is being paid off on a 0% balance transfer card.

Please tell us a bit about your money journey?

Part 1 (15-21)

I started working at a supermarket when I was 15 years old, but I used the money to fund teenage-y things such as piercings and CD purchases. When I was 17, I gave saving a go by putting $100 from each pay into a separate account. I actually got to about $1,000, but then I went to Sydney one weekend and blew the whole lot shopping.

I moved out when I was 18 and that was good because I finally figured out how to budget money for rent and stuff, but I wasn’t saving. After about a year out of home, I realised I wanted to travel, so I moved back in with my parents. And that was kind of what I did for a while. I saved and went to America for three months. Came back, saved, moved to Sydney. Saved money again, then I decided I wanted to live overseas for a while.

Money mindset during this period: “Live now, save later.”

Part 2 (21-25)

I lived in London for a few years, while the exchange rate was great. The day I left, I cashed out my annual leave and my last pay cheque, converted it back to Australian dollars, and I had $17k to work with. But I still was in that “I’m young” mindset and I just spent it, slowly but surely. I moved to Thailand for six months, used up half of it there. I went back to Australia knowing that I was moving to America a little while later, so most of the other half was spent on my green card application and shipping a whole lot of random stuff over to America.

Money mindset during this period: “See the world now, save later.”

Part 3 (25-30)

I arrived in America a few months after the peak of the global financial crisis. It just seemed seriously unlikely I would find a job, especially as a foreigner, so I decided it was now or never to start a business. I started a media company (focused on fashion) and the timing was great; it really took off. I rode a bit of a wave and I put all my extra money back into the business. After about four years, I started thinking about the next steps, but then, for personal reasons, I ended up back in Australia. I was lucky enough to sell the business for a generous figure.

Money mindset during this period: “Now I can really live.”

Part 4 (30-35)

I immediately put the money in a term deposit before I had a chance to do anything stupid. I started working again, launching a similar business for Australians, and considering my options. About a year later, I felt really sick one weekend: full body pain, complete fatigue, sore throat, etc. I went to the doctor, who said it was flu, but it never went away, and six months later, the words “chronic fatigue” were first said by my doctor. For the next three years, basically, I either didn’t work at all, or I worked part-time as a freelancer. I shut down my business. And all the money that I had left went towards simply living through this period.

Money mindset during this period: “Wow, life can change in an instant.”

Part 5 (35)

After about 3.5 years of being sick, I had recovered enough that I could work again. Which was pretty handy, because I was running out of money. In fact, just before I got my job, I actually withdrew a very small amount from my super to tide me over. This isn’t an option for everyone, but I had a lot of specialist reports and medical certificates that helped to allow me this option. My super had fluctuated a lot over the years because I spent so many years overseas, without earning, and at the time it made more sense to take a little from my super than cash out any of my stocks. Thankfully, now I have a steady income again, I will be paying a lot of attention to boosting my savings, investments and superannuation.

Money mindset during this period: “Don’t ever get caught out again.”

Do you have a budget?

Yes, I use an app to keep track of all my transactions. I also immediately transfer my rent money, bill money, and various savings out of my account the minute my pay arrives. That way whatever is left in my account is mine to spend freely.

What has been your best investment?

Probably my Xero stocks.

What has been your worst investment?

I put $1,000 into a mining stock many years ago. The company collapsed. It’s now worth $0.

What's been your overall return?

My CommSec account says 74.06%, but that doesn’t include those mining stocks!

How are you building wealth?

Currently, I have some cash in a high interest savings account and some set aside to buy some stocks. I’m trying to be mindful about what I pick though, so it’s a slow process, hence the weird breakdown between my savings and investments. I won’t hold that much in cash a few months from now. I have some money in Spaceship Voyager too!

What are your main roadblocks? And how are you addressing them?

Just that I have fallen behind where I thought I’d be, due to basically not earning any real money for 3.5 years. I’m trying to double down now, without going crazy.

Do you have a target net worth you want?

Not a sum, specifically, but a lifestyle. I want to be independent, stable and able to live a decent life. That means at some point, not worrying about money and being able to travel.

When did you make your first significant behavioural shift towards wealth building?

Just in the last few years. I was really lucky that right before I got sick, I had sold my business. Otherwise, who knows where I’d be. Now I realise that saving money and building wealth is something you should always be doing. It’s like insurance. It sucks, but do it anyway.

If you could start again, what would you do differently? (Advice for younger self)

I’m not sure I’d do anything differently, as I think I’m someone who needs to learn harsh lessons in order to learn. I’m just glad I know now.

What mistakes have you made along the way that others can learn from?

My biggest mistake has easily been that I’ve never saved steadily. I’ve had a rollercoaster ride when it comes to money: tall peaks and huge dips. I realise now that building wealth is more about the small habits that you instil in your daily life.

How are you learning about building wealth? Is it from family, books, forced to learn as wealth grew, etc.?

I try to do my research, stay on track with my budget, and ask the smarter people I know (friends and family who have proven financial results!) whenever I plan to make a big decision.

Do you give to charity? If you do, what percent of time/money do you give?

Every December, I give a small amount to a charity in Cambodia via Global Giving, usually when they send out a donor match email. Throughout the year, I tend to donate to random charities if my friends participate in events (e.g. Movember).

Words by
Jessica Sier Right Chevron

Jessica Sier is a financial journalist. Prior to that she led content at Spaceship and was a reporter at the AFR where she discovered that breaking down financial jargon was a public good.

Real money talk: Alana