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How to become a rich old lady

Let me state at the start that this is not a guide to marrying a plastic surgeon!

With superannuation in the news again, I've been talking to some of my female friends about the topic and thought I'd share it more widely. Yes, super is boring, but you know what is worse? Being old and having no money and living on the pension.

The Productivity Commission report released this week showed that a combination of people having too many super accounts, and getting lower returns, will leave them up to $400,000 poorer in retirement! That's terrible.

A quick word on my credentials - once upon a time I was a law graduate who started my career in the tax office. I then moved into a tax and superannuation advising role in Federal Parliament and then worked in the funds management division of a Big Four bank.

In my mid-thirties, I met Dr Nick Moncrieff and used my career skills to build our successful medical practice. So, I know a thing or two about dollars, but I'm not a financial adviser and won't make a cent from anything you do, or don't do, from considering the ideas below.

So here are the steps to securing your financial future, according to me:

Step 1 - Sort out your super

1.a: First you need to pick a decent fund. Like health funds, the best ones tend to be those run to profit members, rather than to profit shareholders. In super, these are known as industry or corporate funds.

I'm not going to tell you the right fund for you, but you might like to check out the industry fund website and consider your options (and see my note below about advisers if you need help).

1.b: Once you have a good fund, you need to make sure all your super goes into it. So, consolidate the accounts you know about in other funds into the main fund you now use.

And you need to tell your employer that you want your super to go to that new fund as you have the right to do. The new fund can give you the forms you need to do this. Again, boring, but necessary.

1.c: If you suspect you have some lost super accounts, you can ask the ATO to help. Again, another form is needed, or you can do it online if you have a myGov account.

Step 2 - Have other assets

AKA - women need their own property!

I had bought and sold three properties before I met my husband and lived in my fourth property. The first three were purchased with a trusted friend from childhood to help fund the deposits and mortgage payments.

I strongly believe women need to start small and build property assets over time. And in an ideal world, try not to sell but use the increases in value to purchase the next property (but don't go crazy, especially in a stagnating market like we see now).

I really wish I held on to properties I sold because I thought they had peaked. Except in Perth, when the market really was inflated by the temporary mining boom (when I smartly sold) and will take a long time to recover! So, you still have to look at the fundamentals of what's driving supply and demand.

Step 3 - Understand money

I'm not a fan of, "Oh, I let him handle all the finances."

All well and good when things are good, but what happens if something happens to him? Finances can be a bit dull, but I believe you need to understand where your money is, how to access it if needed and how you are building for the future.

And don't sign documents you don't understand. It didn't work for a certain Real Housewife and it may not work for you.

A word about advisers

My financial adviser friends will hate this, but you can go very wrong with financial advice. They can charge a lot and steer you towards investments that are in their best interests and not yours.

I know this from years of working in the Tax Office, including a stint in the area that dealt with mass marketed tax schemes which were really just a way to separate higher income earners from their money and deposit it in the hands of dodgy advisers.

And I've also seen it personally - Nick made some poor choices before we met and only recently did a couple of those dodgy tree plantation schemes finally mature. They managed to turn $100,000 investments into $45 after 10 years. Yes - you read that right! And he was sold into those terrible investments by what was then a well-known accounting firm with a planning arm which specialised in medical clients.

I know there are good advisers out there and everyone is entitled to be paid for professional services (just like surgeons!). I'd be more comfortable with someone who charged a clear up-front fee for advice, than those who take what is known as a "trail commission" - the money they get from your investments into the future, regardless of whether you ever see them again or not.

This government site has some pretty good information about how advisers charge and the questions you should ask.

So, do I have an adviser? No. We have a great accountant (which is invaluable for understanding the shifting tax sands which are a big part of investing) but I believe that having my super in a good corporate super fund and investing in property is a good strategy for us. As we hit our 50s, and have paid off the mortgages, we might think differently but most investments would struggle to earn more than the benefit of paying off our debts can.

Yes, it sounds a bit simple, but I'd rather simple than so complex that only someone else can understand it and one day I wake up and find we have lost a big chunk of our investments because the ‘clever’ scheme was anything but.

Getting older sucks - Having money softens the blow

I hope that gives you some inspiration to sort out your finances and start securing you future. Getting older sucks in lots of ways, having money as you age helps to compensate for it.


Amber Moncrieff is the Practice Director of Hunter Plastic Surgery. Amber previously held senior roles in business and politics in Sydney and Canberra.

Disclaimer: this is not financial advice, it is simply what has worked for me. If you want something that works for you, then consider getting advice from an accountant or financial adviser. Choice has a good article about where to start.

Link to the Productivity Commission Report.

Steve B
June 17, 2018

The best advisers will generally refuse to provide "one off" advice, as they have too many Govt imposed costs to pay for, including continual education costs, a FASEA Uni Degree, IT & staffing costs. So you will never know what a good adviser really does. Mainly find investments that thrash the index & thrash Industry Funds, apart from other things.

Peter C
June 08, 2018

Hi Amber.

I did something similar to you, my super is in a very low cost index option of a large industry super fund. Total fees are under 0.3% and I get plenty of diversity and performance without the headache of a SMSF. It is now a tidy little sum.

My difference is I invested in the stock-market (rather than property) from the age of 28, mainly in the bigger names in stocks with modest dividends only but with some growth.

I have seen first hand the power of compound interest and 27 years later am close to reaching that magical $1 million mark. It's ironic, my worst ever investment was in one of the ASX listed companies that ran those legal tax schemes, so it wasn't just the investors that lost money, the shareholders did as well.

Oh and I paid off the mortgage on my modest one bedroom unit.

One of my secrets is I paid myself first, i.e. kept a separate bank account for investing and had money automatically deposited into this account on the day after pay-day. This account was only ever used for investing and it came out first even before the mortgage.

I have never used a financial advisor but have paid for specific advice on a fee for service basis. Mistakes, I have made many, but the power of compound interest still wins out in the end.

June 01, 2018

I am in my early 50s and still do not want an advisor. I believe if mistakes are going to be made they will be my mistakes and not someone I am paying thousands of dollars to.

I have a good accountant and make sure I educate myself as much as possible as to super rule changes and other issues around finance.

I think the most important factor in becoming a rich old woman, is to take an interest in your finances from an early age. Making small and consistent contributions to the growth of wealth in a good industry fund, watching your spending and thus keeping control of debt, paying off your mortgage(s) and taking advantage of the magic of compound interest over time are a boring, but sure fire way to make any mug rich in their old age. It happened to my parents and it's happening to me now. I don't need to pay a financial advisor to tell me that. The problem is many people, not just women, don't bother.

My mother always taught me to have some "running away money", read, be financially independent" and that making savings "little and often", will get you there in the end and she was right.

Jumping at shadows
June 01, 2018

Quite pessimistic there Carolyn. Making judgement before experience. Not a recipe for success. Hopefully your good accountant is licensed if giving financial advice.

June 04, 2018

Spoken like a true advisor Jumping at Shadows
As most advice required by me is around tax minimisation and maintaining capital I am just fine thanks.

Warren Bird
June 01, 2018

Great to hear from you Amber. Very helpful insights, too.

May 31, 2018

Oh dear, wish I'd read this and followed it 30 years ago.

Amber Moncrieff
June 01, 2018

All you can do it pass it on and help others avoid the mistakes. Those who want to listen of course!

May 31, 2018

Hi Amber
I totally agree with you. Some of those scams in the 1990s were ridiculous.
Ostrich eggs, olive plantations, trees, the recent sandalwood. All certified by well respected research organisation, for a large fee and a cut, and rights to your first born child etc.
They will always be there and people will always fall for them, greed, supposedly easy returns, and the wonderful (lol) tax deduction of course. For some reason any tiny bit of common sense goes out of the window if a tax deduction is mentioned.
On a lighter note, where do I meet these rich old ladies?

Amber Moncrieff
June 01, 2018

Hi Kevin.. sounds like you were around in the 90s to see all those schemes! Only missed the movie ones ;)

I remember meeting some of the smarmy promoters when I worked in the ATO.. it is quite clear where those 99,955 missing dollars of my husband’s investment went.. and it wasn’t actual seedlings!

And where to meet rich old ladies.. maybe I need to do a follow up story.. I’ve had similar requests to write an actual guide to marrying a plastic surgeon!

Kind regards, Amber Moncrieff

Laina Sullivan
June 01, 2018

Us girls don't want to be a "nurse" or a "purse" when we get older, lol!!


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Women investor numbers grow but financial education still lags

The SMSF gaps in the Productivity Commission’s Superannuation Report

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