Humans are a contradictory bunch. Inflation is pushing prices of non-discretionary items up, including rent, food and healthcare. Household budgets are being stretched. And with the festive season often comes more expenses as well.
Yet talking about money remains taboo, and so many of us still do not actively watch over our personal finances. For example, a large proportion of Australians rarely, if ever, check their superannuation, and even fewer make additional contributions.
In fact, the most recent Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey shows that Australian financial literacy is actually going backwards since 2016.
Many of us work for years without ever realising how to properly save and invest. We focus on the next promotion, new job or side hustle, while neglecting how to use the money we already have.
In difficult times like these, using what you have well is more important than ever. These five tips can set you on the right path.
1. Consider additional contributions to superannuation
Superannuation works through the power of compound interest - the greatest wealth accelerator known to humans. Very small contributions early in your working life can make an enormous difference to your wealth years later.
Say you take home the average Australian earnings ($69,924 a year, including casual and part-time workers). If you contribute $100 extra a week to your super, you will receive just $66 less in your pocket (since super is taken out before tax). Meanwhile, that contribution starts compounding. Over the course of 40 years, assuming past returns to super and inflation returning to historical levels, that additional contribution could amount to an extra $400,000 at retirement.
2. Claim your super
There is about $13.8 billion in lost and unclaimed super in Australia. If you have held multiple jobs, changed names, address or lived overseas, you may have lost track of your super. Log in or create a MyGov account to access ATO online service. You will be able to see all your super accounts in one place, and you can consolidate them. If you are starting a new job, think about whether you have a super account you could already use.
3. Keep an active eye on your home loan
A large number of households will transition from a low fixed-rate loan to a higher variable-rate loan in 2023. If you are among these, don't think the bank is going to ease you off gently. There is a good chance they will put you on the highest variable product on offer, not the lower rate offered to attract new customers. They did this to me recently.
Check your rate when you roll over. Call the bank to ask for a better deal if the rate is higher. There's no harm in asking, and you can be sure they won't be calling you. For those already on a variable rate loan, keep an active watch on competitors' rates, and don't hesitate to call the bank if you see a better deal in the market.
4. Invest for value
With interest rates rising, we are likely seeing the end of outsized returns on speculative investments such as cryptocurrency or tech companies that don't turn a profit.
While interest rates remained low during the previous decade, investors, in aggregate terms, were incentivised to take bets on riskier assets. This is because less risky options, such as bonds, had such low yields. With rates reverting to historical levels, investors will likely return to assets producing a decent income stream or dividend, and put less money into speculative assets.
As such, I will be diverting more in 2023 to broad-based Australian index funds and diversified managed funds, with a focus on profitable companies.
5. Improve your financial literacy
Most people grew up without any formal education on personal finances - learning it by osmosis from parents or friends.
In challenging economic times, having a small amount of financial knowledge can take you a long way. It is paradoxical that, just as our budgets are being squeezed like never before, our level of financial literacy is dropping.
Take control of your finances. Manage your super more closely. Ask for a better deal from everyone you interact with - from loan repayments, to insurance and credit cards. Learn about investment options. Read up and become an active participant in your own finances. Otherwise, someone else will be making money off you.
- Kim Northwood is author of Work Less, Make More: The Millennial's Guide to Financial Freedom and a long-term investor and entrepreneur. He was formerly an adviser to Australia's trade and investment minister.