Calculate your way to financial freedom – 10 great tools for crunching the numbers

I love numbers! And I really love playing around with calculators and spreadsheets to help me plan and manage my money. Here are some of my go-to tools for planning:

Calculating Your Net Worth

Determining your net worth (total assets less total debts) is a really powerful way to get an overall sense of your financial position. You don’t need a calculator to do this – in fact write it down on a big piece of paper will make more of an impact (here is ASIC’s online one anyway. This number gives you a clear understanding of where you need to focus your money goals – debt reduction or wealth building. Armed with your net wealth, income and investment returns, you can use the tools below get a better sense of when you might reach the holy grail – financial independence (and early retirement)!

Budgets Are Sexy Spreadsheets

As my go to, big-picture financial tracker which helps to motivate me to save and invest to reach my early retirement goal, I use the BaS Early Retirement Spreadsheet (.xls download). There are a bunch of other spreadsheets compiled by this blogger which can be found here Best Budget Templates.

ASIC’s Money Smart

The ASIC Money Smart website has some excellent calculators which are handy to get a sense of how changing your spending/saving/investments/super will impact your wealth in the long term.

To check out the list of calculators and tools go here:

Some of the top picks are:

Other handy calculators:

I’d love to know if there are any great tools, apps or calculators you use to plan and manage your path to financial freedom.



Big tax rebate for educators, nurses, scientists and mathematicians

UPDATE: This has sadly been scrapped by the government as of 2017/18

Have you recently completed a degree in teaching, early childhood education, nursing, mathematics, statistics, science or midwifery AND since become employed in a job that matches your degree qualifications? If so, then you are probably eligible to have your HECS-HELP tax that gets taken out of your pay, returned to you for up to 260 weeks (5 years).

Whilst it is great to get rid of your HECS-HELP student loan, unlike those in the US, the cost of the loan in Australia is relatively cheap (that said, the actual loan itself is often very big!) – it increases by the CPI every year, which was 1.7% in 2015, making it the cheapest loan you will ever get. This means that if you can make more than 1.7% returns from investing your money rather than paying your HEC debt, it makes sense to get the refund and invest rather than paying down your HECS.

How would you go about making more than 1.7% on your money? It’s not particularly hard, just open an online savings account (think: ING, uBank), and you are likely to make over 3% (or a real return of nearly 1.5%). If you invest in an index fund that tracks the market, on a long-term average you are likely to make 5-7% (with a real return of 3-5%).

For more info check out the official ATO website, which includes the application process, or StudyAssist which provides additional details.

This scheme could help you put $10,000+ dollars back into your pocket in the early part of your career and financial journey, right when you need it most.


How I save and invest

I love to research. I read the PDS (product disclosure statements) of all the potential financial services I choose. I like to know what I’m in for. So based on the many hours of research I’ve undertaken, here are the accounts I use to manage my money and future…

  1. Everyday account – ING Direct: I use a combination of a regular Orange Everyday account. By depositing my salary in there, I get 2% cashback on payWave/TapnGo purchases under $100 (which is about $300 per year – a pretty good return for tapping!), and free cash withdrawals at any ATM in Australia (they refund the cost of withdrawing back to your account instantly), which comes in handy very often –> in total these benefits save/make me about $500/year. 
  2. Savings account (emergency cash) – ING Savings Maximiser: This account in linked to my Orange Everyday, and by depositing my salary (or more than $1000/month from an external account), you get 3.50% interest, which is the top rate you can get in Australia at the moment aside from term deposits greater than 12 months. The added benefit is it is instantly accessible, and the ING app is extremely easy to use.
  3. Investments – Shares: I don’t invest in individual shares. I don’t have the time or nerves to deal with that. Instead, I use both a passive and actively managed funds to (hopefully!) make my money work for me. For my  passive (‘index’) fund, which includes investments in a broad array of large company shares that effectively mirrors the movement of large sharemarkets, I use the Vanguard International Shares Index Fund (Hedged). This is ‘hedged’, meaning that it roughly avoids the impact of exchange rate fluctuations, and only increases/decreases due to share movements. I also have money in an actively managed fund, which might make other personal finance blogs squirm in their virtu-worlds, but it is to help align my investments with my ethical views. The second investment fund that I use is Australian Ethical’s Australian Shares Managed Fund, which avoids investments in environmentally and socially degrading companies and has performed extremely well over the past couple of years, even when fees are considered (relatively high compared to index/passive funds). I have an automatic transfer that sends a set amount into these funds each week. This helps to smooth out the ups and downs of the markets and ensures instead of trying to play the market, I focus on building my wealth.
  4. Investments – Acorns: I have recently started using this app and I can say it is excellent. It allows you to either invest a small ($5 and above) amount on a regular basis (daily to monthly) or to ‘Round-Up’ your expenses to the nearest dollar and invest the difference – this requires you to link it to your expenses account. The fees are relatively expensive, $1.25/month up to $5000, then 0.275% when above $5000. Despite this, it has gaming elements and shows real-time performance of your investments. It allows you to pick a specific investment profile with a varying mix of shares and bonds, which will depend on your appetite for risk and investment timeframe. I like it for the ability to invest small amounts daily and to watch your money working.
  5. Superannuation – First State Super: If you haven’t rolled your super into one account yet – stop reading now and do it! (Check out the ATO SuperSeeker to do it online – you will need to signup for myGov). I would then suggest going with your industry’s super fund, as high fees of many funds significantly reduce your final superannuation balance. I go with First State as it is the teacher’s super fund, and I have a split 50% Diversified and 50% Ethical Diversified balance  – with the ethical fund performing better over the past few years!
  6. Credit cards – 28Degrees: This is the card to use for international purchases. I only really use it for automatic bills, when I purchase online and on overseas holidays. When travelling overseas, load it with cash so it has a positive balance to avoid interest charges.

Check these out for yourself, they have really helped me to consolidate and grow my wealth. Any suggestions for things you use to help manage your finances and accounts let me know!

Housemates for healthy pockets

Housing is one of the three major expenses for most people, so sharing housing is a smart way to minimise this cost, whilst getting the benefits of sharing the housework and (hopefully) building great friendships. I currently live in a four bedroom house with a nice garden, in one of the most expensive cities on Earth, about 15km from the CBD. My housemates include a teacher, bike shop owner, performing arts educator, lawyer and renewable energy engineer, which brings a nice diversity to the skills, knowledge and interests in the house, which is especially good for crosswords.

I wanted to share a couple of great things about how our house operates that has developed over a decade of sharehousing with friends. These approaches to important elements of the house give us all more money for our future and more time to enjoy our lives (read: spend on wine).

 – we each have one major area/task in the house that we focus on and ensure is kept to an agreed upon standard (bathroom, kitchen, chooks etc)- this means that we become efficient at doing the related tasks and only need to focus our attention on one main chore, saving lots of time and energy. And when people get over cleaning the bathroom, usually every few months, we switch it around!DSC_0270


Meals – we each have a cook night that fits in with our schedules in which we cook a meal for the whole house. With our focus only on cooking one evening, this gives us each lots of time to spend on our other projects, as well as allowing us to have cheap, home-cooked meals every night (and often leftovers for lunches the next day). It also means we often    have big ‘family’ meals during the week which is a great time to debrief about our days, catch up on news and bounce around ideas.

2013-12-20 17.23.38Groceries – everything in the house cupboards and fridge is communal, except things that are specifically bought by person for themselves beyond the food kitty (and they have their name on it!). We each spend $40 per week on food for the house, and add things to Wunderlist as we need them. I highly recommend Wunderlist for keeping track things like groceries, especially amongst a busy group of people. We also have five chooks which provide us with eggs every morning and an expanding garden that provides herbs and greens. Another great thing about a big house is that things can be easily bought in bulk, significantly reducing the per unit cost of food items, making it very cheap to eat.


Tidying – everyone is responsible for their own stuff. That means cleaning your own dishes and laundry, as well as keeping communal areas junk-free. Fostering open communication (and choosing housemates willing to take on board a little healthy constructive criticism) is key to ensuring this works well!


Communication is the key to all of this. Fostering open and supportive communication based on common interests (happy home, healthy pockets) is critical to making sure all of these work, and no one feels like that are carrying all the load in terms of money and time. You need to be upfront with housemates right from the beginning about what is and isn’t acceptable and discuss that fact that you are keen to address issues before they become unhealthy and costly problems.

2015-07-12 12.19.48

Drive money back into your pocket – Five frugal driving tips

If you have to drive, (it’s cheaper not to if you can help it), there are a few ways to keep costs down.

When I first got my car I felt an affinity with the accelerator. My car is pretty old and cheap but it took off at the lights like a ferrari (I thought so). Recently however, its become clear to me that chewing through petrol for a few thrills on the way to work is unnecessarily costly.

What are the costs of ‘expensive’ driving? You use more petrol, wear down parts quicker (brakes, tyres, gear boxes, etc.) and are more likely to get a fine.

How to drive ‘cheaply’?

  • Think of revs/RPM as money – the higher you rev the more fuel you use
  • Drive off slowly at lights, coast downhills and leave space in traffic to avoid stop/start
  • Keep you tyres inflated to the recommended PSI – this reduces drag on the car which reduces the amount of fuel required to move the car and also increases the life span of your tyres.
  • Drive within the speed limit = no fines!
  • Fill the tank up at night – heat cause fuel to expand, so colder fuel is more dense but the same price

I’ve been driving using these tips for the past few weeks and I’ve seen a 20% drop in the amount of fuel I’ve needed for my 5 day/week , 60km round trip commute.

And if you can avoid driving by taking public transport, biking or walking, even better!

Also for most cars, there are lots of cheap fixes that you can do yourself to avoid the expensive service costs at the auto shop

Easy minor fixes worth DIYing:

  1. Replacing basically all globes (except the dashboard – this looked fairly complicated and involved!)
  2. Topping up the oil (on older cars – critical for reducing wear)
  3. Replacing windscreen wiper blades/cartridges

How to do it? Go to youtube and type in your car brand and what needs fixing. And keep that money in your pocket!

Three ways to burn your FIRE future

Often discussion about financial independence is focused on the things you can do to help you get there. But it can be the things you don’t do that make a significant difference in helping you achieve your financial goals.

Here are three easy ways to make dreams for Financial Independence and Retiring Early (FIRE) ever more distant:

  1. Get married – the average wedding in Australia costs around $25,000 and is largely pointless from a legal/economic perspective. If at 25 you invest that $25,000 in superannuation/managed fund instead of getting married, by 60 you’ll made an additional $200,000 for retirement
  2. Buy a house in Sydney to live in – the current median house price around $800,000 which is debt I never want! You are much better off finding some sharehouse buddies and splitting the cost of rent, utilities and housework – I have many friends that do this with small children (meaning free childcare for them as well).
  3. Buy a new car – the first minute you drive your new car out of the car yard, you just lost 10% of the value. The cost of depreciation, as well as the often expensive maintenance requirements for new cars means a similar late model second-hand car is pretty much always a cheaper option.

Spending big? Remember your future self

When making larger purchases it can be useful to think about the costs and benefits for your future-self to decide whether something is worth having. For something to be worth spending money on, the cost to your future-self should be less than the anticipated benefits.

For example, if I spend money on something NOW worth $10,000, that is $10,000 worth of investments that I forgo. By spending rather than investing, I reduce the future value of my investments. At a modest 6% return, that means in 30 years, my future-self has $57,500 less money than if I had invested. That equates to working an additional year to reach financial independence (which my future self is unlikely to want to do!).

To determine if this purchase is really ‘worth it’, then the purchase should add more than $57,000 of additional benefit to your future self in 30 years. If it doesn’t then it is probably not worth your current-self spending your future-self’s money and time!

What types of spending does this apply to? Education, cars, technology, houses, any sort of asset or career building investment, really anything that is not recreational. ‘Joy value’ is very hard to quantify, and whilst it is definitely worth considering how much you spend on leisure and whether you could get equal enjoyment out of cheaper pursuits, it can be a fine balance between constantly trying to determine if leisure spending is wasteful and actually just enjoying yourself!

So when making spending big next time don’t just consider you, think about how your future self will be impacted by what you’re about to do.