Christina Smerdon is the Chief Flex Enabler and Financial Controller at WORK180, an international jobs board that connects smart businesses with talented women. WORK180 pre-screens every employer on their jobs board to see where they stand on pay equity, flexible working, paid parental leave, equal opportunities and a range of other criteria, then shares that information publicly. Christina believes that real change for women comes when women support women, and through sharing real life stories to inspire women to take control of their financial lives.
Q: Where do you get your financial advice from?
Scott Pape / Barefoot Investor, Fin Review or CPA
Mostly I seek advice from a handful of incredible women that are in my life. We talk finance, money and families openly and honestly. It’s been a great way to cut through the marketing hype to get to the core of what matters and how others have walked the path before me.
Q: What’s the biggest money mistake you’ve ever made?
In my early 20’s I had credit card debt and spent money I didn’t have. Once I paid it off I swore to never be a debt slave again. In hindsight it wasn’t a huge amount of debt, but I hated the feeling of going to work, getting paid and having nothing left over for me.
Q: Do you have a strategy when it comes to finances?
I like to have a cash based safety net so I know that if either my husband or I got sick, need time off or simply lost our jobs that we would be just fine for at least a few months.
Other than a mortgage, we have no debt and this is non-negotiable for me. I refuse to be bonded to a job I hate or a career that slowly sucks the life out to make the next debt payment. That is too high a price for ‘stuff’ in my view.
We drank the ‘Scott Pape / Barefoot Investor’ kool aid about a year ago. We set up our ‘buckets’, negotiated better deals on all of our expenses (seeing it all in a spreadsheet is pretty overwhelming) and now feel like we have control over all of our money.
Q: Do you ever speak to your friends about money, investments, purchases?
Recently in our household we have been talking about insurances – the ultimate risk mitigation strategy. But do we really need income protection if we have a cash safety net, and who do you trust as an insurer (thanks for the intel, Royal Commission). There is so much hyperbole on the internet and when you talk to ‘experts’ it is hard to unpack what is true and what is BS.
So I surveyed quite a few friends and colleagues about what they do, why they do it, who they use and anything we need to be aware of through this process. This process helped me about a year ago when we were thinking about engaging a financial planner, but it just didn’t feel right. After talking to a few friends who were burned badly from their own experiences we didn’t proceed. Knowing what has come out of the Hayne Royal Commission I am so relieved and grateful for the advice my girlfriends gave through talking about their own experiences.
Q: Looking back over your life, what are some of the most pivotal money moments (negative or positive) that you remember?
Buying a tiny little shack in the burbs really cheaply, and selling it for a good return a few years later when an agent knocked on my door asking if they could sell it for me. It was all unplanned and unexpected. I had come back from overseas, my dad suggested I buy it, so I did. It was just going with the flow with my life. It really set me up to care about money – because I saw the freedom that it gave me to make some great choices about what I did with myself (went to Peru to hike the Inca Trail with a friend from Austria; and took a sabbatical for a year; sat around and read lots of books).
Q: Do you consider yourself clued up financially?
On a lot of things, yes I am. But there is just so much to know about, then understand enough to make good decisions on. There are so many sharks out there who are trying to get a piece of your hard-earned money that even if you are clued up financially you need to maintain constant vigilance. We seem to be living in such a strange time – people are well-educated and we have so much access to information. Yet, suppliers have made products that are so overwhelmingly complicated and use such big words that they seem to be trying to confuse people.
Insurance is something I wish I knew more about. It is so boring and there are so many loopholes. There are way too many cases of people paying for insurance, then missing out when they need it.
Q: Do you remember any big financial lessons that you learnt at school / uni / in business?
None from school or Uni. Schools really need to teach more real life finance, and less trigonometry.
From business – the devil is in the detail! Lots of things look really good until you whip out a spreadsheet and factor in all of the costs, and put a value on your own time.
Q: If you have a financial question - who or where do you go to get your information?
Research on Google first up. Then I would ask someone I trust about it.
Q: Superannuation is notoriously dull. Do you feel like you’re on top of your future financial situation, or do you not consider it at all?
Yes it is notoriously dull.
I now feel like I am on top of it after reading the Barefoot Investor and putting his steps into place. After quite a few years as the stay at home parent (I am incredibly grateful that we could afford for me to stay home for so long, but I wished I knew 10 years ago about the impact it would have on my super balance, and I might had done things differently – like have my husband salary sacrifice into my account), I am now playing super catch up by salary sacrificing into my super fund. We have agreed to do this until my balance matches his.
Q: Financial literacy appears to be lacking amongst young Australians. How do you think this can be improved and what do you see as the big issues?
Yes it is lacking. In our household, talking finance, credit cards, marketing scams, how companies are dedicated to making profits not making you healthy or wealthy are common topics of conversation. My 9-year-old loves learning about credit cards at the moment. She is fascinated that people would spend money that they don’t have to buy things to then become debt slaves and have to work tirelessly for someone else.
I think that learning starts at home. Except that many adults don’t have enough knowledge to pass on.
Women are incredibly powerful when we work together. Educating women on finance changes the conversation in households. I agreed to this article because sharing our stories and knowledge is how we learn and grow. And I want that for all human beings.
Big Issues – living within your means and not spending someone else’s money (ie credit cards you can’t pay back every single month), debt slaves and how this really looks for real people, dishonesty in marketing and sales.
Q: Would you call yourself financially responsible or irresponsible?
Responsible. We don’t spend it if we don’t have it. For me, spending money on credit cards or lines of credit that you know you can’t pay off by the end of the month is akin to stealing. This mindset for me has changed how we spend.
Q: What’s the best piece of financial advice that you give us?
Invest the time in the next 6 months to get yourself sorted. Open the mail, look at the bills, pay off the debt, set aside some savings on autopilot, get a low cost super fund, write your will and enduring power of attorney. It is no fun at all. But once you are sorted out you are free to get on and live your life without the burden of ‘finance’ hanging over you.
When you want to go shopping for anything – needs and wants – think about what you get paid per hour, and ask yourself if 3 or 8 hours of your life is worth exchanging for this thing you are going to buy. If not, put it back and walk away. If it is worth it, then you will probably cherish it.
Q: What’s the dumbest purchase you’ve ever made?
I’m sure there are many many examples that I can’t think of right now. Over the last 3 years I have invested lot of time decluttering and selling or giving away anything that we no longer use or want or love. I have removed many dumb purchases and am no longer tortured by looking at them and being self critical!
Q: What’s the smartest financial decision you’ve ever made?
Buying the Barefoot Investor book one year ago and putting the steps into place.
Q: You’ve got a daughter – how has your money mentality shifted since having kids?
When my 9yo was 3 years old, we played ‘shops’… a lot. I even bought play money for the shop. But eventually I realised that she didn’t know what money was. She used to ‘swipe’ a piece of paper through a book to pay. She had never seen me handle money so she thought money came from a hole in the wall, and you just paid with a card.
We have introduced cash back into our lives just so that they see it and can understand it.
We talk a lot about where money comes from – and it’s not that machine in the wall that goes beep!
I want my children to have basic money skills when they leave home. So we have made the invisible, visible for their benefit.
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