Uncensored Money Season Five: The Unsexy Path to Financial Freedom

Melissa Browne: Ex-Accountant, Ex-Financial Advisor, Ex-Working Till I Drop, Now Serial Entrepreneur & Author, Financial Wellness Advocate, Living a Life by Design | 29/04/2024


Show Notes

After coming back from less than nothing in her thirties, Mel Browne took charge of her finances, so much so, that within a decade she had the choice to work or not. 

In this episode of Uncensored Money, Mel talks about the journey that got her there. Not so you can replicate it piece by piece hoping it'll take you exactly where it took her, but so you can understand the process that she went through, becoming financially free. Listen in as Mel breaks down the 8 steps she recommends if you're thinking, "Well, what should I be doing?".

Listen to this exciting episode, and be inspired to take charge of your own finances.

Books and resources mentioned in this episode

If you're on insta, come play over at @MelBrowne.Money and make sure you’re signed up to Mel's Money Musings for more tips, tricks and ideas on how to best work with your money.

Finally, if you love this episode please make sure you subscribe and leave us a review.


Mel: Hey everyone. I'm Mel Browne. I'm an ex-accountant and ex-financial advisor, so I have the theory, but I also have the life experience. I'm now financially independent in my own right after coming back from less than nothing in my early thirties. I want this podcast to be like a chat with your girlfriends about money. My aim is to help you discover why you're behaving the way you are with money, to suggest new ways you might behave that are a better fit for you, and to increase your financial literacy and financial confidence. I hope it inspires challenges, educates and empowers you with how you do money. So let's get into it. Welcome to Uncensored Money.

Mel: I've shared on lots of webinars that I've been on and in-person events, the story of how in my mid thirties I made a really stupid financial mistake where as a result of a throwaway line by my ex-husband that I'll never make it on my own.

Mel: I gave my entire divorce proceeds and every cent in my business and personal account to charity and how the next day I wanted to ring up that charity and say, can I have that back? I am the charity. And how, because of that decision, I went into five figures of debt, had to move into a frat house with a bunch of friends because I didn't have money for bond, for living expenses, for cashflow, for wages, for super. And it really took a while for me to not just dig myself out of that, but also to get to the point where I had financial stability. But I also go on to tell in that story how by the time I was in my late forties, I had the opportunity to the choice to work or not. And I had true financial independence. And while I tell that story a lot, I don't always talk about, well, what are the steps that I took to get there?

Mel: So I thought today in today's podcast I would share a little bit more about that. It's something I shared in the decades, what a big difference a decades make webinar from last week. But before I do, I wanna just say there is no one path. And that if you try and just replicate what I do, it's not going to work for you. What we wanna do is learn from each other to pick the bits that make sense and that are right for us, but not just to try and R&D or rip off and duplicate someone else's success. And then wonder why by putting the exact formula that they did, it's not gonna, it's not working for us. And there's a number of reasons why it doesn't work. One, we're all different. Two, the economic conditions have changed. A three, there is so much more things that we are facing now from a whole lot of different apps to the ability to access debt, to wage, to property ratios and more.

Mel: But there's also a lot more opportunities that you could press into. And if I could liken it to this, you know, probably about 18 months ago I was at a Christmas party for a financial planning firm that we did some business with. And as we got up to leave, one of the partners grabbed me and she said, look, I just wanted to let you know, 'cause she'd made an, she'd, made an announcement that she was leaving the firm that day. She said, I just want you to know that you're gonna see a course that I'm putting together, turning up soon and don't be surprised if it looks exactly like yours. And I remember thinking to myself, what the actual, and I was so stunned that, and it was their Christmas party Lawsie and I just walked out looking at one another going, did that just happen?

Mel: But here's the thing. She potentially looked over and went, oh my gosh, I want what she's having, so I'm just gonna do exactly what she's doing. Everything from the amount that she charges to what the course looks like, et cetera, the language that I use, et cetera, et cetera. But here's the thing. I know that she hasn't replicated the success that I've had. And part of that reason is because she's not me. There's complexity behind what I do. I've been doing this for a lot longer. And it's one of those things where you might look across at someone else, and I think we're all guilty of comparing ourselves to someone else and going, if I just did exactly what they did, I could have that same success. But unfortunately, life doesn't look like that. It doesn't look like that. If we try to mimic someone else's relationship, sure it might get better, but it's never gonna look exactly the same.

Mel: It would do the same if we're trying to mimic someone's style, we might look down and go, gee, I look better. But it's not that. The same with businesses, the same with finances. And the reason I tell that story is because whilst I'm going to share today the path I took, what I wanna say to you is it's not gonna work exactly for you. And instead, what I want you to hear and what I'm gonna share is what I think you should be thinking about at each step that I took and what that could look like for you today. So let's get into it. This is the unsexy path I took. It's eight different steps. I haven't gone down to the minutia 'cause we don't have a whole day <laugh> to spend together. But I thought I'd pull out eight things to share with you if you are thinking about, okay, well what could I be doing?

Mel: So number one is I looked at what do I really want? What did post-divorce Mel want? And I think too few of us actually took take the time to stop and do that. And what I personally did is I paused my business for 12 months and I took 12 months to figure it out. 'cause I think it's really easy for us to gut react, especially if we're going through an emotional time and to say, right, I'm just gonna do this or I'm just gonna do that. And what I want you to hear is I put a time limit on it. I didn't just say, you know what, I'm just gonna take some time. I said, I'm going to take 12 months. And I said to myself, if it takes less than 12 months, great, but I'm going to give myself 12 months to figure out what I really want.

Mel: And I was looking at everything from, do I still wanna do business? Do I still wanna be an accountant? Where do I wanna live? All of that sort of thing. And I think, as I said, too few of us take the time to do that because if you don't, then everything else is going to be really hard to keep up. Everything else is gonna be really hard to sustain because you don't have that why you don't have that goal that you're actually excited about. So put a time frame on it. Take the time and figure out what do you really want? Not your friends, not your peers, not society, not your family, but you. For me, what I figured out what I wanted is, whilst I wasn't excited about being an accountant anymore, I was excited about helping people build their businesses. And whilst I really didn't want to move back to the mountains, that was where my business was, that's where my clients were.

Mel: It was gonna be too hard to commute back and forth. And besides property and rent was so cheap there that it just made sense to move back. So step one is to ask the question, what do I really want? Number two is to ask the question, what am I prepared to suffer for to get to that? And again, this is an unsexy question, right? In an age of instant gratification in an age of, oh, but you know, I just want it to be easy. I just want it to be nice. It's asking the question, what am I prepared to suffer for? Because if I decide that I wanna get fit, if I decide that I wanna and for me, I went through menopause. I went through early menopause yay me a number of years ago. And I, my husband said to me, you need to start lifting heavy weights like that.

Mel: He's a physio. He said, this is really important for bone density and for where you're at. And it was freaking hard and it was embarrassing. And I suffered like my body hurt. And you know, I would do those weights and it would shake. But the long-term goal of, of living well and having really strong bones so that if I was to fall when I'm 80, I don't just break, was worth suffering in the short term. It's the same with your, with your finances. If those goals are sexy enough, if they're attractive enough to you, it's asking the question, what am I prepared to suffer for in the short term? For me it meant just not just going out and renting 'cause I couldn't afford it, and B, it would just have sucked up and sent me further into debt and meant that I couldn't do anything about the debt that I currently had.

Mel: So I moved in with four friends to really remove the cost of housing for me, meant that I had super cheap housing and I was prepared to suffer that for 12 months. I know others that have done similar things where they've gone on to MadPaws, they've gone on to house sitting and where they might have gone through divorces or they just wanna really quicken their success and they're prepared to suffer for 12 months or 24 months to remove that cost of housing and really get ahead. And then what I was prepared to suffer for after that is I moved into a really tiny house in Blaxland in the Blue Mountains where the rent was minuscule in order to continue to get ahead. So what I was prepared to suffer for, I was prepared to move into a shared\ house in order to meet those goals.

Mel: Number three was actually looking at, okay, what do I have now? What's, what's my debts? What's what money have I, am I bringing in? What money am I is going out? And what I did as I did that exercise, 'cause sometimes you know, I'm an accountant, I'm a finance person. It's like builder's houses and mechanics, cars. Often you have the danger of your finances are the things that you are neglecting. And what I had to face was that I simply wasn't earning enough when I looked at my numbers, when I looked at my financial reality to hit the goals that I wanted to repay the debt that I was in, I simply wasn't earning enough. And I had to answer the question, how could I start to increase my income? Because the business that I was running was not paying me enough to pay me a commercial wage.

Mel: It wasn't paying me enough to pay super, it wasn't paying me enough, nevermind to hit the goals that I wanted to. So as a result of that, I paid for coaching. So I invested in group coaching in my business. And I think my business at the time was maybe making $80,000 a year. And I paid $24,000, no, $36,000, sorry, to be in a group coaching thing. A huge investment. But I knew that if I put myself in an environment with blokes where I was in a group coaching where we had to share numbers, I knew what I'm like, I know my hyper competitive nature and that I'd wanna beat the boys. And that is exactly what happened. So I had to learn how to sell, I had to learn how to diversify income streams. And then the unsexy part of that was I had to work a lot of hours to build income.

Mel: So yes, I learned skills, yes I did all that, but I had to work a lot of extra hours for probably three years in order to build myself back to the income that I wanted. And I don't think we talk about that enough. I think we talk a lot about we need to tighten our belts, which you heard that I did by removing the cost of housing. And a lot of us have got leaky buckets that we need to fill when it comes to expenses. But I think too few of us are looking at the income side and going, how can I bring in more cash? How can I bring in more income? For some of us it's asking for pay rise. For some of us it's looking for a better paying job. For some of us it's getting starting side hustles or figuring out how to find more cash.

Mel: If you're looking for more ways to find more cash, it's actually challenge two inside the My Financial Adulting Plan where we teach you how to find $833 in 30 days. And that's a skill that if you do that every single month, you can have 10 grand in 12 months. We have rock stars who've done that, including Jody, who's a single mom who really took that with gut. So, and in the first 12 months of doing that, within 10 months she found 11 and half thousand dollars, which she could put in the first year towards debt. And in the second year she put that towards investing. So third thing that I had to do was face that I wasn't earning enough. The fourth thing was I had to pay down my bad debt fast. As I said, I had, I'd accumulated five figures of debt as a result of giving that money away to charity and still being able to run my business and have cashflow to live because I didn't, I wasn't earning a commercial wage.

Mel: My expenses were more than my income. So number four was I had to pay down debt and fast. And I gave myself 12 months to get rid of it. So one thing that I did was to, I got, I transferred my credit card to a zero interest credit card and I cut both of them up and then I paid it off. And then I just concentrated on paying down my bad debt faster, gave myself 12 months and I did it. I automated, I used challenges, I said yes to things that I wouldn't normally say yes to in order. And every single spare scent that I found, I put it towards that bad debt because I was living in a shared house. I had lots of socialization with friends, I went on a lot of dates. And so, you know, there wasn't a lot of expenses for me during that time.

Mel: I just made a choice not to go on holidays, not to go out and eat. I just saved as much money as I possibly could and funneled everything to paying down debt fast. But then number five, once I got rid of that debt, I had to start rebuilding. You know, the truth is you can't earn your way to wealth. Yes, we wanna look at paying down bad debt. Yes, we want to look at increasing our income, but if all we do is pay down debt, whether it's good, bad, okay debt. And if all we are doing is earning more and working hard, that's not enough to build wealth. It's the truth that not enough people are talking about. So I had to start rebuilding. For me that means choosing to rent rather than buying a home initially. 'cause I really needed to start building a property deposit, but I also start.

Mel: So I started saving for that deposit and saving hard. But I also started investing in shares. I'd never invested in shares before that point. And at 33 I decided that now, other than in my superannuation, and I decided that now I'm gonna start looking into it. Back then there was no apps, there was no anything like that. Yes, you had the big trading platforms attached to banks, et cetera. But I remember I was going through a broker because I didn't really, I had to figure out how to invest individually in shares myself. I wanted to understand it and I didn't have large amounts. Certainly back then you needed larger amounts to invest in managed funds. It wasn't like the micro investing that you had now. So for me it was learning about investing in shares and I made some big mistakes with that. I went all in in particular sectors.

Mel: I didn't diversify enough. Like I treated myself as the Guinea pig. And now a lot of what I teach is a result of a lot of the mistakes that I've seen clients make, but also I've made along the way so that you don't make those same mistakes. Number six is, I bought my own home. So buying your home own home is not for everyone, but for me, because I wanted to, I had a business and the, it was really, it was much easier for me if I had a home because then the banks, if I wanted an overdraft or if I wanted to invest in other things. So often if you have property, it's a lot easier to get cheap, cheap, cheap finance. So I decided rather than buying an investment property, I was gonna buy my own home. At that point I had a partner, my now husband, and we wrote out a, a list of things that we'd really like.

Mel: We went and figured out how much we could borrow and then we halved it. And that's the amount that we decided to spend. And for me that was really important because I didn't wanna get trapped into the dream home. I didn't wanna get, have a golden, golden handcuffs on because I had this beautiful house. But that was it. I wanted to still be able to invest. I still wanted to be able to build my business and I still wanted to make decisions and not feel like I couldn't act because all of my money was going to a mortgage. So we bought a house, but we did it with half the amount that we could borrow so that we could still borrow to invest. And that for me was a really critical and important thing. It meant it wasn't, it ticked some boxes but didn't tickle.

Mel: It wasn't exactly where we wanted to live. There was about half of the list that simply wasn't on it. But there was enough that it was, and it was something that we knew we'd eventually have to spend money on. But we were quite comfortable living in it in a state that it was number seven was we then started investing. So initially it was with shares, so just starting regularly to invest in shares and building that beautiful habit. Then we started investing in property. So both commercial and residential. And what I did is I signed myself up to lists both domain and to local real estate agents so that I could start to get a feel for what property was doing, what I had pre-approval so that if something was to turn up, I was able to instantly jump on it and know that I could put in an offer and afford it without having to go and figure it out after the fact.

Mel: It meant that we were able to buy things I think that we might not have necessarily looked at, including a little set of shops because we were ready to go. And I think that's one of the things, being ready to go, even when you're not quite ready to make that leap, means that when those opportunities arise and we were on lists where we're being fed opportunities, then it meant that we could jump on them rather than going, oh, you know, we should get to that. And then number eight, the final thing is I concentrated on building multiple income streams versus assets. For me, I'm not interested in the amount of assets that I have. I'm interested in the income streams that I'm bringing in. So Lawsie I know is the reverse Lawsie who I work with is looking at an asset position. I'm looking at an income stream position.

Mel: And will I sell those assets down over time? Absolutely, if I have to. But more importantly, I'd rather build income streams. So I looked at building in income streams through business, through rents, through dividends, and through the businesses that I was actually physically in. Today I'm more concentrating on building passive income streams rather than income streams that I have to work in. But I'm really comfortable for the next 20 years up to when I decide to eventually retire. I don't wanna just stop working completely. So I wanna build income streams that I can dip into if I want to. I'd love to have a membership or consulting, et cetera that I could dip into, have a little bit of pocket money, but also keep my brain active. Feel like I'm still giving back and that that's part of my legacy and that I'm busy 'cause I can't imagine ever stopping.

Mel: So it's cultivating those income streams. So in amongst that, did we make mistakes? Abso freaking lly. One was obviously getting that bad debt, giving that money away to charity. When I really should have sat on that for 12 months. Other things that we did that was stupid was we loaned money to friends and like a lot of money to friends. And I really have a problem now with doing business with friends or or loaning money to friends. I think if you're going to do that, and if I was ever gonna do that again, I would do it commercially. So I would go through property agents and do it or go through real estate agents and then I would have no problem doing it. Or if someone wanted to borrow money from me, I would go to a solicitor, put it all down in writing, document it and treat it like a loan with either a guarantee if it's a large sum of money and maybe a lien against their house or, or some sort of collateral so that you are all protected.

Mel: And so it doesn't affect the friendship. 'cause That's the problem, isn't it? I am an inherently generous person. My husband was always saying to me, you have to sit on decisions for 24 hours or a week before you make them. As far as being generous because I err to generous, but I don't wanna put us at risk because of the having a spirit of generosity. The other thing I didn't talk about in here is obviously things like giving back, et cetera. For me from very, very, very early on, it's important that I give back to charity. For me that was always, even when I wasn't earning a lot, I always had to be sponsoring. The reason I gave that money to charity initially is 'cause that was already what I do. I've always sponsored kids. From now I give money to women's shelters, to homeless shelters and more.

Mel: But it's not something I publicly talk about. I don't talk about the amount or et cetera. Because for me that's a very personal thing. It's not something that I need to make a big noise about. It's not something that I need to have as part of my business plan because it's a very personal thing. But part of me and developing the income that I want is so that I can give an extraordinary amount back to charity. And the reason I bring that up is that, number one, what do I really want? This is something that I look at every year. This is something that I continually look at because if I was just working for me, I wouldn't get excited about that. For me now, part of why I am continuing to build my business is a, I am in a building phase at the moment so that I can give back.

Mel: And I think it's really important that you continue to run through that. What do I really want? What am I prepared to suffer? Am I earning enough? Rebuilding investing, that's the process that you should be running through every single year so that you can continue to pivot so that you can continue to make sure, is this actually the path that I wanna be on? Am I still excited about this? Or do things need to change?

Mel: If you listen to this and go, that's a lot and I don't even know what, where to start with that, make sure you check out the My Financial Adulting plan. The doors close at four times a year. They're currently closing on Tuesday night, the 30th of April. Or unless we've sold out, because we're only taking 400 people. I open the doors four times a year and again, I limit numbers so that I can really have this extraordinary community and I can pull from an empty cup knowing I can transform your finances inside the My Financial Adulting plan. You will create your financial strategic plan. You'll learn about investing, you'll learn about goals, debt, creating multiple income streams and everything I've talked about today. So whether you are able to jump in now or you jump onto the wait list, I highly encourage you. Don't be overwhelmed. Don't think, ugh, I wouldn't know where to start actually jump in and make a plan with me to do this for yourself. You are so worth it. If you enjoyed this episode,

Mel: If you enjoyed this episode, we would love it if you subscribed and give us a review, then make sure you come and play with me on Insta. I'm at @melbrowne.money Remember there's an E on the end of Browne. I'm one of those fancy Browne's, and don't forget to check out the show notes for even more ways you can work with me to transform your finances.



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