It was a wise person that came up with the phrase “my two cents”, because everyone seems to have an opinion when it comes to money. Scroll through any forum or comment section and you’ll find a generous collection of people typing hard and fast advice to each other about how to get out of debt, how to save more, how to spend less, how to pay down $250,000 of debt in 18 months and how to buy a property at 22.
But how much of this advice is worthless? Quite a bit, it would seem. In my nearly four years writing about finance, here are seven financial tips I’ve come to realise are pure garbage.
1. Make your coffee at home or in the office.
I tried this. I got up early, I poured my terrible-tasting coffee into my KeepCup and I almost cried as it spilled all over my hands on the bus. After I cleaned myself off at work, I calculated that I would save $35 per week by not purchasing my twice-daily coffee (one $3.50 coffee twice a day, five times a week).
This was not worth it for me. Those that love telling you how to save money will tell you that I am “wasting” over $1,800 a year on coffee. But what they don’t consider is the health aspect of leaving my desk to buy coffee, the social benefits of my coffee run with my colleagues and the fact that I’m supporting local businesses.
And if saving $35 per week could really help you, you could always find a way to earn $35 extra per week and call it even.
2. Spend less money than you earn.
This leads nicely onto the next piece of useless financial advice. If you have a problem with your budget or you find yourself spending more than you earn, the first frustrating thing that someone will tell you is to just “spend less than you earn”. This is a useless long-term strategy.
You should be looking at ways to increase what you earn. If you have no savings or assets, find ways to earn more right now and invest it down the track.
With platforms like Airtasker, Freelancer, Uber, Car Next Door, Gumtree, Airbnb and eBay, there are myriad ways to easily and quickly increase your income.
If renting out a room, renting your car, working online, selling your stuff or offering some other service isn’t for you, then look at the money you do have and start investing. These days, you can invest in property for just $100.
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3. Buy in bulk.
I have a few problems with this advice. Firstly, it only works if you have enough money to buy large quantities of one type of item in the first place. Then, your money, which could have been put towards some sort of investment to build your wealth, is literally sitting around in the form of 10 kilos of coffee (this is a guess, I don’t even know if you can do this).
So, rather than having a giant pack of tampons sitting in your bathroom cupboard (these do exist, I saw them at Costco), invest your money in something that will earn you interest. This might be a high-interest savings account, a robo-advice platform, a micro-investment platform, the investment side of peer-to-peer lending or a fractional investment platform. Your money will work harder for you when it’s being invested rather than saved by buying in bulk.
4. Put all of your money in a savings account.
Savings accounts are amazing things. They encourage you to put your money aside and reward you with interest for doing so. The trouble is, that interest pales in comparison to other investment strategies. You shouldn’t rely solely on your savings account to build your wealth.
A terrible way to use a savings account is to use it to hold all of your savings. A good way to use it is to have it hold a small amount of money that you can draw on in case of an emergency. Put the rest of your savings into something that yields more interest and works harder at building your wealth.
5. Buy all of your food at the start of the week.
I’m going to be a little flexible on this one, especially in the case of planning family meals, which I have no experience in. So, let me explain it this way. Buying your food for the entire week works if you always stick to your meal plan and if you just don’t have time for smaller trips to the shops throughout the week.
However, if your plans always change and you find yourself regularly pulling rotting carrots out from the bottom of your vege crisper, I’m going to put it to you that you aren’t saving time or money by buying all of your groceries in one day.
Plans change. You decide to order in. You decide to go out. You watch an episode of Masterchef, have a glass of wine and decide to attempt a ridiculous recipe. Weekly grocery shops don’t allow for flexibility and food ends up being wasted, as does the money you spent on that food and the time you spent buying it.
6. Never use a credit card.
If you’ve ever had the pleasure of trawling through Whirpool threads where people ask for help with credit card debt, you’ll find the “never use a credit card” trope. The problem with this is that it assumes that anyone who takes out a credit card can’t handle their spending, always gets into unmanageable debt and then cannot find a way out. Don’t get me wrong, this does happen and credit cards aren’t suitable for everyone, but this line of thinking ignores the many, many benefits of credit cards.
For example, credit cards can give you thousands of reward points for signing up and meeting the minimum spend criteria, free domestic flights, airline lounge access and more. Just make sure you’re paying off your balance each statement period and reap the benefits.
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7. Don’t spend your money on useless things like holidays and handbags.
I’m going to let you in on a secret. I bought a $400 handbag six months ago and it was THE BEST THING I EVER DID. No, I don’t think you should be buying $400 handbags regularly and no, I don’t think you should be taking holidays if you really can’t afford it.
But damn. If someone ever tells you not to splurge occasionally or not to take a holiday for five years to save for a house deposit, don’t feel guilty for searching for flight sales online. What else is going to get us through the 9 to 5?
So next time someone offers you some financial advice or a savvy tip that seems outside of your own logic, don’t just take it at face value. Think about how that advice will work within your own circumstances and whether it will do anything to help you reach your own financial goals.
Elizabeth Barry is the personal loans editor at finder.com.au. She has a passion for smart spending, saving and investing and enjoys reading PDSes so that you don’t have to.