Ever wanted to know about how self-made Aussie Millionaires became wealthy?
I sure did! There’s so much out there about the American experience, but little is known about how Australians reach financial independence.
Let’s face it: Aussies don’t like to talk about finances and accumulating wealth. The tall poppy syndrome is alive and well even though it harks back to convict times – and its doing us a great disservice.
So, let’s smash through the cultural barriers and spread the knowledge how just about any Australian can become financially independent.
In this article, we welcome Aussie Doc Freedom, a doctor, to share her financial journey and the strategies that her family have used to reach financial sustainability. She also has a blog where she helps doctors and other high income earners manage their finances.
Name: Aussie Doc Freedom
Current age: 40
Marital status: Married
Children: 7 and 4 years old
Net worth: $1.02M
Your spouse and finances: Our finances are combined, he has been a stay at home spouse for the past four years
Current estimated value of your home: $560K
Town or suburb: A regional city
Car/s: 2010 Mitsubishi Lancer. Brought new after catching the bus for six months to save up the cash. I’m quite proud of this, colleagues look at me as if I’m completely insane if I humble brag.
Debt?: Plenty of debt – but increasingly tax deductible, investment debt. Currently $770K but about to increase (gulp) with another investment property. $170K still on owner occupier, $600K on 1st investment property.
Average monthly spending:
Food: $1,000 – I don’t have any particular food requirements and eat everything, hence the food bill! Traditional husband doesn’t respond well to a vegetarian meal. I sneak lentils in when I can and he’s not looking 😊
I don’t really consider us to be a frugal family. But it’s comes down to perspective. In comparison with most of the financial independence crowd we are definitely a spendy household. We spend a lot on insurance, holidays and private school fees.
However, in comparison with my medical colleagues, and in contrast with expectations of me as a doctor, we are a frugal household. I don’t like the idea of drawing attention to myself, so would never be interested in buying a flash car. Our house is lovely, but not in a showy area. Ou neighbours are tradies and teachers rather than doctors and dentists.
We have two fish, they don’t break the bank. We’re playing with the idea of getting another dog, but not sure we are ready for the commitment yet.
As for donating money, we currently donate $2,500 per year to Save the Children and Give Direct. I found Give Direct through Effectivealtruism.org, the resource I’ve been seeking for years, and now it actually exists. It’s hard to know where to direct your donation to make the most impact. Effective Altruism examines this question and explains in depth the pros and cons of several highly effective charities.
We plan to start a child sponsorship through Childfund.org.au this Christmas for my oldest child.
I was fortunate enough to be born into privilege. I was born in the UK as a white child of a nurse and factory worker. They came from working class families and grew up in social housing and were striving for a better life. My parents provided a great childhood, and pushed my siblings and I hard in education.
I moved to Australia at the age of 25 on a bit of a whim for a post university ‘gap year’. It’s really hard to go back to the NHS once you have worked in the Australian health service, which is far better resourced.
My parents were clearly ambitious about getting ahead, and went against the family grain in the 70’s by buying their own (tiny) home. Mum and dad’s family thought they were mad taking on all that debt. My parents moved up the housing ladder as soon as they were able, borrowing literally the maximum they could manage, with an aim to downsize and free up cash from the house to help fund retirement. This meant they were house rich, cash poor whilst we were growing up. They worked extremely hard to pay down the mortgage, scrimping and saving all the way.
My siblings are I were always provided for very well, but I certainly understood the value of money. We were all encouraged to get jobs to pay for our ‘wants’. If I wanted a non-essential item, I had to earn the money to pay for it. Seeing mum and dad struggle to make ends meet put me off having a huge mortgage.
I do remember mum telling me once to ‘save for a rainy day’. I must have been quite young. I remember wondering why you would need to spend money when it is raining!
The explicit stuff about money was very traditional, telling us all the time that we had to work hard at school, get good grades to get a well paying job, and buy a house as soon as possible.
Funnily, my sister claims she never linked doing well at school with a good income as an adult. She claims no recollection of these (almost nightly I’m sure) conversations! Clearly only one of us was listening at the dinner table!
If we wanted pocket money we could do jobs on top of usual chores for cash. The first thing I saved up for was my first album. I’m too embarrassed to confess the band.
I was 14 years old when I got my first paid job. I worked for two hours every weekday cleaning the school. Given as students we were always lectured about personal responsibility, cleaning the teachers’ lounge was a bit of an eye opener!
Growing up, I attended a local public school with a very good reputation. When I finished secondary school, I worked for a year and then attended medical school for five years. In the 10 years after that I completed my postgraduate specialist training.
The only inheritance I’ve received was $20,000 from my grandmother when I was around 10 years ago. Grandmother finally learnt to swim at age 70! It seemed fitting to use the money to build a pool (in which my children have now learned to swim).
My husband once won $1,100 on the lotto! I collected the prize and gave it to him mid-way through his night shifts to cheer him up. I don’t know what he spent it on, I’d guess fishing equipment.
As an Adult
On finishing medical school, I had what felt like a huge amount of debt. At that time, I wished I had a book telling me how to manage my income now I was finally getting paid.
A few years later, I found Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad Poor Dad, which challenged my assumption that buying a home was the route to wealth, and introduced for the first time the idea of ‘assets vs liabilities’. I was hooked on finance books from then.
Depending on whether I work a weekend, public holiday or do extra hours my pay can vary significantly every fortnight. I find it’s important to capture extra pay so in order to consciously decide whether to save, spend or invest it. The easiest method for us is to have my pay dumped into a savings account, and direct debit the total I have allocated to spend each fortnight to a ‘spending’ account.
I have annual budgets for holidays, professional development, home improvements and ‘fun money‘.
We use Pocketbook to track our income and expenses. This was especially useful in the first few months as we identified spending that was offering low value to our lifestyle. I really have found tracking spending so much more useful than traditional budgeting.
Goal setting is important and we set and review goals every six months. I’ve started encouraging my seven year old to set goals for the year.
Goals achieved include:
- Saving up the deposit for our principal place of residence
- Saving the deposit for an investment property
- Saving and paying cash for every car I have owned
- Saving for our special holiday last year
Our current financial goals:
- Save enough for the kids to cover uni tuition fees (or a house deposit/ investment)
- Have a years spending ‘FU money’ saved in case of family health crises back home or other opportunities
- Achieve financial independence in 14 years to allow me to retire or practice expedition medicine and/or humanitarian work once the kids leave home
I track my net worth once a year when I do my tax return usually, just using an excel document. I’ve been watching it more closely lately as we’ve reached the $1 million milestone! It’s good to track net worth so that you can look back and confirm you are making progress.
Our net worth:
- $600,000 Superannuation
- $390,000 PPOR equity / offset
- $30,000 Investment property equity
- ($38,000 AFI for kids’ education fund, I don’t count this in my net worth)
After moving into our PPOR, we used the ‘debt avalanche’ approach to pay off some consumer debt and my student loans. We increased our mortgage repayments with the spare cash once the debt was paid off.
Over the past four years we have got serious about our finances, and aggressively paid down PPOR debt to allow us to invest in property.
We will also start investing more in international index funds, once the 2nd investment property has settled.
Here is the link to my detailed wealth building strategy.
At the moment our rental income doesn’t cover mortgage interest. Post tax benefit, passive income from property last year was -$5,085. Income from stock market around $1,600 last year.
My strategy is largely focused on capital growth, which is more tax efficient at this early stage.
As an employed senior doctor I earn $360K per year and contribute extra money into my superannuation fund. My employer offers extra contributions if you increase your own contribution. I maximise this and also do spouse contributions and super splitting. I am aiming for more equal superannuation balances.
The ten year scenario to reach financial independence is a long time to do work you don’t enjoy. Try and find work that is well paid that you will enjoy. That includes retraining if it means you will end up with a far better earning potential, and will enjoy the work.
I also recommend spending far less on a house even if the bank is willing to lend you a lot more money, and keeping your vehicle costs low. These have been our biggest advantages.
Our net worth is nowhere near the other Aussie Millionaires featured in this series. But we’re on our way, should reach our goal as intended, and plan to enjoy the journey as much as possible.
Interested In Sharing Your Story?
The goal of sharing the Australian financial story with others is to inspire, educate and challenge other Australians seeking financial sustainability.
If you are an Australian with a net worth over $1 million and are interested in being interviewed, I’d love to send you a questionnaire. It contains three sections: Personal Snapshot, Growing Up and As an Adult.
There is no obligation to answer all questions and you do not need to provide your real name for publication.
Your privacy at all times will be respected.
No identifying information in any format will be given at any time, unless permitted by yourself.
The knowledge gained from your personal finance story will help others in their own journeys.
If you are interested in sharing your financial story, please leave a message on the Contact Page. All correspondence will be handled with confidentiality.
Thank you very much.