My earliest memory concerning money is of burying a $2 coin in the hope it would grow into a money tree.
When this speculation failed to pay off, and I was unable to recover my capital, no amount of begging my parents resulted in a bailout. This experiment taught me a valuable lesson in pure risk and personal responsibility.
At the age of five I started my formal education at a public school in regional South Australia. Ever since I learned to read, I was obsessed by books. When my class made a quilt depicting our dream jobs, I drew an author surrounded by books with dozens of intricately drawn pages. But when it came time to transfer this design to fabric, one of the helper parents insisted I change to an easier design – a checkout worker at Target. This was the first time I really engaged with the notion of a career.
English and Japanese became my favourite subjects, and after studying the language throughout primary and secondary school, at fifteen I visited Japan for the first time. After a school-planned trip fell through, I managed to convince my very supportive parents (who still didn’t have a money tree) to allow me to go on my own, on the condition that I earn part of my airfare. Hence, I began my first job – cleaning the family business. It was a transformative experience – both the solo overseas trip, and the toilet scrubbing that led to it!
The next year, I undertook year 11 and 12 studies simultaneously, finishing high school a year early to go on exchange to Japan. There I met Simon, who would become my husband, and cemented my interest in Japanese, applying to study a Bachelor of Languages at university when I returned.
In the final year of my undergraduate degree, we married. We spent our honeymoon in Fiji, another country I fell in love with. The next year, I completed honours-level study, and we started saving for a home after discovering Peter Cerexhe’s book, Get That Home Deposit in 104 Weeks. Then, I received a scholarship to undertake doctoral research. Having grown up in the first generation with access to the internet from a young age, I dedicated my research career to discovering how people learn languages through online communication, and the impact social media has on our everyday lives.
Our first investment (besides our education)
On schedule, after two years we had saved enough for a >20% deposit on a small property. We successfully made an offer only to find out the house was structurally unsound! Then we found an apartment we loved, but the bank refused to lend for it (due to a lack of laundry taps of all things!). We changed banks. It was around this time that I came across Anita Bell’s book Your Money, which I picked up for $2 in a second hand store. Unlike my ‘money tree’ idea years earlier, this was a real investment. In the back of the book was an advertisement for Your Mortgage and How to Pay it Off in 5 Years or Less. I was hooked.
In 2010, I graduated with a PhD. I took up short-term contracts as an assistant lecturer. I became increasingly passionate about open access to education and research, the free software movement, and developing my students’ capacity for analytical and critical thinking, in not only linguistic research, but language learning. The same year, I joined the incredible online community Simple Savings, which galvanised my interest in personal finance. I devoured books on finance, including those critical of the finance industry such as Helaine Olden’s revelatory Pound Foolish: Exposing the dark side of the personal finance industry. As I read, I began writing reviews and summaries, largely for my own benefit, but also for my friends on Simple Savings and off site.
Paying off our home and a new challenge
Finally, I secured a permanent position as a lecturer in 2012, and by the end of that year we paid off our home. It had taken us 4 years, 1 month. Looking for a new challenge, I discovered the Early Retirement Extreme and Mr Money Moustache blogs via Simple Savings. Our motivation exploded. Although I had achieved my long-held goal of becoming an academic, I dreamed of the freedom impossible as an employee.
We spent a weekend away putting together a three-year plan for financial freedom:
a) to research & buy an investment property b) to research & buy shares c) to build a cache.
Then the centre Simon was working for closed down.
Undeterred, we began the first year of our Journey Towards Financial Independence. Simon found a new job. We tracked all of our incoming and outgoing cash, down to the cent, to get a baseline of our expenditure and work out our ‘crossover point’, saving up to 90% of our income at times. I took part in every savings challenge I could find. We saved a deposit for an investment property, narrowed down suburbs, inspected places, and after some adventures, settled. Through extreme frugality and with the help of the incoming rent, we managed to pay off the mortgage in just under a year.
In the second year of our Journey, we began buying shares.
In the third, we worked on optimising our life further. We developed an extensive meal plan based on the Perfect Health Diet. We lived overseas for a month as a scouting exercise—scoping it out for possible future living (and although the new company Simon was working for closed down, we both got sick, our flight was cancelled, and we got hit with lots of bills while our investment property was untenanted) we had a great time. Simon got a new job, enabling him to work in his new-found area of interest (finance) after completing a certificate in Mortgage Broking, and facilitating the purchase of our last parcel of shares. We got a new bank account with a better interest rate and spent the next 6 months living off only investment income as a trial. I started selling unnecessary stuff online. We reached our savings goal by the end of the third year.
Early retirement and life optimisation
After 12 years working at the same university, and much deliberation, I followed in the footsteps of one of my heroes, Joe Dominguez (author of Your Money or Your Life) and resigned just before my 31st birthday. While I was (and still am) passionate about language learning, the power of technology to connect people, research, and critical thinking, I was looking for other ways of making a difference.
I realised that I wanted to help people learn a different language – the language of money.
Because I wanted a place to pull these pieces together, I coined Enrichmentality. I began studying towards a Diploma of Financial Planning—not to become a financial planner, but to better understand the industry and our own finances. It cost me less to enrol in the Diploma than to seek a single Statement of Advice from a planner, reinforcing the importance of investing in education to me.
I often wonder whether that quilt is still on the wall of my first school. None of the image turned out to be true. I don’t have stringy blond waist-length hair or red-painted fingernails. And I’ve never worked at Target.
Some people would chuckle when I’d pick up a coin from the ground and transfer the equivalent to our mortgage, but the old adage that “from little things, big things grow” is true. While my first experiment with growing a money tree didn’t work, over time I learned to cultivate a money forest. Part of it has to do with seeing how small actions can lead to big changes. Part of it has to do with breaking away from the mainstream. This can be scary, but incredibly rewarding—for the environment, your relationships, and your wallet. Through Enrichmentality, I hope to share with you the insights I have developed relating to the language of money, learning, financial independence, and life optimisation.