I’m The Founder Of Urban List, Here’s What I’ve Learned About Financing Dreams

By Susannah George

One of the trickiest things about personal finance is that everyone has a point of view. I’m not an expert, but I am turning 40 this year; and with that milestone approaching, I’ve spent a chunk of time trying to sort through what’s working, what’s not, and what feels right for me.

At 30, I founded a business—Urban List—that is centred on moving people to live their best life. That business now connects with around 3 million people, monthly, which has given rise to some pretty significant responsibilities. Among them, increasingly, I’ve felt a bit of conflict — between encouraging readers to be out there, living large and experiencing everything; and in sharing lessons learned when it comes to doing that alongside achieving longer-term dreams. 

I wholeheartedly believe both can coexist. And so I thought I’d share how I approach things in case it works for you too—a personal and admittedly subjective, yet well-researched, four-step process to the art of wealth building: 

  1. Set a long term goal you truly care about—one that’s meaningful and motivating (5-10 years away)

  2. Spend less than you earn (otherwise known as, save)

  3. Invest with automated regularity (ie. a monthly direct debit, rather than trying to time market peaks and dips)

  4. And in general, invest online in index funds or ETFs (baskets of shares) rather than individual companies

Setting A Goal

The most important part of the art, and the best place to start, is deciding on a goal—something that’s meaningful, motivating and that will leave you feeling like a boss when achieved. 

My goal is the ability to renovate our home pretty substantially. I love where we live but not how it looks or works. I want to make that dream a reality.

Spend Less Than You Earn

Yup. That simple. To get ahead you need to save. Feels basic, but it really is everything.

You don’t need to save to the point of missing out—for me, that would be unsustainable. But I do have a set amount that hits my savings every fortnight. And where I can, I dial that up and tip in a bit more. 

Within those savings, I have an amount that I commit to investing. It’s a pretty conservative amount, to be honest—big enough to be meaningful, small enough to be sustainable. 

The goal is critical to this part of the process. Unless your goal is motivating enough, it’s just too tempting to transfer between accounts when that wishlist sale email hits. Believe me, I’ve been there. 

A common hurdle amongst those looking to start investing is thinking you don't have enough money, so you'll wait until you earn more. But even if you're saving in small amounts, investing that money provides a better outcome than waiting until you're 'richer' to invest. If you get in the habit now, as your income grows it will allow you to save and spend more as you grow your career. 

Automate Your Investing—Picking The Market Is For Losers

That’s a bit harsh. But honestly, this next part gave me so much peace of mind when it finally sank in. 

There’s a concept that finance people call incrementalism—a source I trust, the SimpliFI blog from Pearler, has written about it here—and for me, it took so much pressure off the scariness of investing. (For transparency, Pearler is the investment platform I choose to use, and also an Urban List partner.) 

As a human, I have a bias for action. No matter if it's wrong or right, a big part of my self-worth lies in how much I can do and achieve in a day. 

On the investment front, I am the exact opposite. I am what you’d call a long-term, passive investor. And that’s because I’ve seen enough proof to know that passive investors consistently outperform those who are actively managing their investments (and that’s been particularly true over the last year).

I have a set amount of money that gets automatically transferred into my Pearler investment account each month, and once it hits a certain value, that lump sum is automatically invested (I cover what I invest in next).

Why don’t you have to worry about whether it’s a good or bad day for the markets? 

Long-term investment strategies tend to use the concept of dollar-cost averaging. This means investing set amounts at regular intervals, no matter what the market is doing, to eventually average out the share price you pay.

If you’re trying to figure out how often and how much you should invest, here’s a calculator you can use.

Why I Invest In ETF Funds

The TL;DR, when you invest this way, you’re getting exposure to a whole lot of companies rather than banking on a single one to perform or tank. The diversification makes sense to me as an investment strategy—balancing risk across a spectrum of companies and beliefs. 

Because ETFs are passively managed, they generally have lower fees than actively managed funds or trading individual shares. They’re also liquid, meaning you can buy or sell them quickly, much like shares in a company. And there’s no minimum investment. Bonus. 

Warren Buffet is also a big advocate for ETF (or Index) investing—he’s actually advocated that 90% of his wealth be invested this way once he’s gone. 

The intricacies of the category are beyond me, but there’s a pretty solid ETF101 rundown from Stockspot that may help you decide whether this approach feels right for you.

In terms of which ETFs I chose, I used Pearler’s templates when I first set up my account, primarily investing in these two:

  1. Future Is Female: companies that have a strong focus on gender equality in their leadership—not solely from a social perspective, but because I believe companies that have more diversity in their leadership are likely to make stronger decisions and perform better longer-term. I’m not the only one to hold that opinion and there’s plenty of research that proves it true.

  2. Sustainability Leaders: Companies that are committed to sustainability—again, not only for the ethics but because I believe that future consumers will demand this of the companies they choose to support, which will, in turn, be reflected in the valuation placed on businesses who have strong social and environmental policies. 

Where To Start

After many investing mistakes I've made: tips from colleagues, CFDs, buying-the-dip, alt-coins, I've come to this point where It's better to simplify and automate. Then, focus on life and work, not some trader-gets-rich side hustle story.    

Before we get into specifics, this is how I personally think about getting investing clear in my head. The three things to make sure you understand and believe are:

  1. Set a long term goal you care about (5+ years, ideally 10), which is 'The Why'

  2. Save and invest regularly (e.g. monthly) and don't try to 'pick the market', which is 'The How'

  3. Invest online in index funds or ETFs (plus an entertainment bucket if you want), which is 'The What'

Educate Yourself

The first thing to read is an intro to ETFs. This won't get you too excited (so don't stop here), but ETFs and Index funds are mentioned a lot below. Note: Index funds and ETFs are pretty much the same thing.

Set a goal

I won't go into this too much, but the most important thing you need to do is have a really clear idea of the earliest time you might need the money. Life happens and it may be earlier, and the market will go up and down and no one knows when. No one. It's a very personal thing. For me, if I thought there was a high chance of needing the money in the next two years, I would probably sit on my cash. Otherwise, I'd be keen to get going and hold tight. 

Don't pick the market, 'average in' with regular investing

  • Dollar cost averaging—great for beginners.

  • Timing the market—this is worth a read; I like this sentence "And if he would have simply dollar cost averaged... he would have ended up with much more money in the end (over $2.3 million)"

  • Your mind and the market—this site might not look like much, but his writing is helpful and simple, worth browsing if you're really keen

Note: Australians are already doing this with their Super.

How Pearler Fits In

For some context, it's worth running through Pearler's investing principles so you can see where we've got our inspiration. I haven't wasted words on our vision, social tools etc.

Pearler is designed to help everyday people practically apply the three basic principles I mentioned at the start, making it super easy to invest over the long term.

Just to refresh, the THREE principles I outlined are:

  1. Set a long term goal you care about (5+ years, ideally 10), which is 'The Why'

  2. Save & invest regularly (e.g. monthly) and don't try to 'pick the market', which is 'The How'

  3. Invest online in index funds or ETFs (plus an entertainment bucket if you want), which is 'The What'

The first THREE Pearler  functions are:

  1. Financial independence goal calculator (the age you'll live off investments based on a few basic saving and investing assumptions—we will add more goals soon)

  2. Direct debit savings and direct-invest into each of your ETFs/stocks each month or every couple of months (set and forget, like rent, Spotify etc.) 

  3. Pearler helps you select from all ASX listed stocks, with simple filters and rankings for the most popular ones on Pearler, based on actual user data. You can also see and copy the portfolios of users to help you get started.

The summary

You don't need to be a sophisticated investor to have a smart plan to build wealth. History shows, no one is better than the market and the more tricky you get, the more likely you are to make lower returns or worse. 

And when I say no one, I mean fund managers, traders etc. When I say market, I mean if you tracked the stock prices of a large group of companies (eg. VAS). This means the whole industry of fund managers have been shown to fall short of the market since the beginning of time—and they've been paid handsomely along the way. If there's anyone to go by, Warren Buffett says don't pay the fund managers, buy an ETF.

Happy reading.

This article is sponsored by Pearler and proudly endorsed by Urban List. Thank you for supporting the sponsors who make Urban List possible. Click here for more information on our editorial policy.

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