A few years ago, Jacqueline didn’t know how she’d get back on her feet.
She had been living in America, but after a divorce she decided to return to Australia. On the verge of turning 50, she returned with little more than her dog and $10,000 in debt.
“I wasn’t very involved in managing the money during the marriage. It looked like we were doing well, with the cars and the house, but I didn’t know how much debt we were in. So, in the end, there wasn’t much left,” Jacqueline said.
To make matters worse, soon after returning to Australia, Jacqueline was diagnosed with cancer, which prompted her to move back in with her parents for support.
“It’s hard to imagine that, if I hadn’t had the love of my parents and my family home to return to, I might have been homeless,” she told Yahoo Finance.
Unfortunately, Jacqueline’s experience isn’t a unique one.
In recent years, women over the age of 55 have been the fastest growing demographic of homeless people in Australia.
And recent research shows that the financial impacts of separation are more negative for women than men, with many women at risk of entering poverty after separation.
Jacqueline feels fortunate she was able to get employment quickly upon her return. But, despite the challenging circumstances, she also blames her lack of financial capability or being a contributing factor to the situation she found herself in.
“I’d never been very good with money. Even when I was younger, I didn’t give my finances much attention. So, I never developed the skills around managing money. If I’d learned those skills earlier in my life I would be in a very different place. Being almost 50 with nothing was a wake up call. I couldn’t afford a financial advisor but I knew I needed help to change my situation,” she said.
This led her to enrol in Mastering Money, a financial education program run by SkilledSmart. Developed in collaboration with experienced financial professionals, the program teaches adults practical financial skills to save, invest and manage their money.
The program gave her the steps she needed to start making changes and within nine months of the program, Jacqueline not only achieved her first goal of becoming debt-free but had also saved over $10,000, making a total turnaround of over $20,000.
Since then, Jacqueline has continued to hit big goals. Another 18 months on, she bought a car, paid for a holiday, all while staying debt-free, improving her credit score, and continuing to build her savings.
Here, she shares three money lessons that helped her turn things around.
1. Start where you are and take one step at a time
“The program taught me how to allocate my income, track my spending, and optimise my expenses. So in the beginning, that’s what I focused on. I wasn’t ready for topics like investing, so although it was good to learn about them, I focused on the things that were most relevant to me,” Jacqueline said..
She considers this approach of taking one step at a time key to the progress she’s made.
“It can be easy to feel overwhelmed or deflated by big goals that seem out of reach. But I didn’t focus on the big goal of saving thousands of dollars, I started out by focusing on the little changes I could make. If I could save five dollars here, or a hundred dollars there, I did. Seeing that progress was exciting, and those small wins added up over time.”
2. Find people you can learn from, who have done it and achieved success
“I realised how much more achievable things can be when you are willing to learn from people who are ahead of you. You do have to put in the work, but having someone show you the ropes can make the journey a lot easier,” she said.
Far too often, people struggle with their finances in private, feeling embarrassed to ask for help. This makes it hard for them to access the support they need to change their situation.
“I wouldn’t be here today if I hadn’t been willing to ask a lot of basic questions and find people who were ahead of me who I could learn from. It can be daunting, but there are many people out there who do want to help, and if you never ask you’ll never know.”
3. You’re never too old to have a beginner’s mindset
“A lot of people doing the program were much younger than me,” Jacqueline said. “But I didn’t let that bother me. I am where I am, and I can only move forward from there.”
While many allow their age to be a barrier to achieving their goals, she has no desire to slow down, and wants others to know it is possible to achieve big goals at any age.
“It’s hard to believe I’ve made such a big turn around in just a few years. I used to dread looking at my finances, and now I’m excited about my financial goals because I feel more confident in my ability to achieve them. Your age shouldn’t hold you back from working towards your goals,” Jacqueline said.
Today, she hopes her story will inspire others to take control of their finances.
“Learning how to manage my money has been a truly worthwhile journey. If you stay committed and keep learning, you will make progress. So, no matter how impossible your dreams seem, don’t give up.”
SkilledSmart is a financial education platform helping adults learn to save, invest and manage their money. On their website, you can download a free e-book on “5 Money Mistakes Costing You Thousands”, and learn more about the Mastering Money program.