Carly Barnes: Don’t be intimidated by your finances, own them. Slay them!

Carly Barnes is a marketer, singer, investor, flexitarian and world wanderer. She studied music and live performance at AFDA and went on to start an industrial theatre business, write for a few magazines (some glossy, some niche) and make magic in the PR and content creation space. Passionate about storytelling, the role of EasyEquities brand manager had her at ‘Hello’; and she started working at Purple Group in 2016. In her free time Carly practices playing the ukulele, works out, and spends time in nature. She’s also passionate about empowering women, especially in the investing space. Excited to be part of a team which is breaking new ground for South Africans with low cost, friendly investing, Carly makes sure newbie and seasoned investors alike are welcomed warmly to #TeamEasy. In this interview she talks to us about her money habits.  

Are you worried about the recession and what are you doing to remain positive about your financial well-being during these tough times?

I think the word ‘recession’ is scary for anyone, but when these things happen (and they do), it’s also a great opportunity to ‘check yourself before you wreck yourself’. Taking an honest, hard look at your finances is something we should be doing on the regular anyway, and it can be a truly empowering and revealing exercise. I’ve recently gone on a mission to be more responsible and proactive with where my money goes; I’ve called this mission #survivaltothrival. Part of this journey has been really looking at what I spend each month, and realizing there’s a lot of stuff I can live without and a lot more opportunity to save and invest than I thought. You don’t know what you don’t know, and so for me despite approaching a less than ideal financial climate getting that perspective has made me even more than optimistic – I’m excited.

In this economic climate, have you downsized your lifestyle at all?

In the last few months I’ve definitely made a few lifestyle changes to combat the financial squeeze we’re all starting to feel. For one, I set a weekly budget for groceries and avoid buying things adhoc – those R100 or R200 shops are often unnecessary and over a month can chew at your budget. Instead I make do with what’s in the cupboard, which has subsequently become like a fun MasterChef mystery box challenge! I think it’s important not to cut so much out of your budget that life becomes miserable – I guess it’s a bit like going on a diet. You need to allow yourself a few treats, otherwise you’re more likely to fall off the wagon. So I leave some room to do things like get my nails done – but at the most affordable place and only once a month. I still socialize, but instead of splurging on an expensive dinner we’ll do a potluck supper at someone’s house. I think small tweaks like that can make a huge difference, and still allow you to feel like you have a life.

What are the challenges you face daily when making financial decisions?

My biggest challenge is prioritising – what’s more important right now. Settling my credit card, getting some money into an emergency savings fund, investing in my Tax Free Savings Account (and ultimately my retirement) or finally getting the plumber in to fix that leaky tap at home. The only way for me to navigate my way through all of that is to start small and take things month by month. Even if it’s only R50 that I manage to get into my Tax Free Savings Account each month, it’s R50 I’m not wasting on a cappuccino or an unnecessary Uber trip. It’s about forming the habit.

Did you parents teach you about money? If not, how did you learn?

My parents approached money in a very practical way which gave me a good start and I think shaped my work ethic. For example when my school held a Debutants Ball, it was up to me to raise the money to buy a ticket and so I waitressed for 5 months (saving all my tips – even the 50c’s) and in return, my folks sponsored my dress. For me that was really motivating, to know that they would support me but that I needed to put in the work as well. Even when I got older and had to start paying for my own ‘boring stuff’ like petrol and medical aid, knowing my parents had my back but wanted me to be independent gave me the courage to take risks when I could afford to, and want to stand on my own two feet even more.

Out of all your responsibilities (bills, groceries, etc), what do you find to be the most expensive nowadays?

I guess we all feel the same way about those grudge debit orders – the things we need but can’t physically hold in our hands. When I chat to my friends I’m always a little shocked at how expensive property levies are and how different they are from area to area.

How do you balance happiness and financial responsibility?

I think this speaks to my #survivaltothrival mission, which is really about striking a balance between being financially responsible, but also having fun and enjoying the fruits of my hard work. I think the key is to be proactive and focus on the ‘can’s and not the ‘can’t’s. Ok, I can’t shop at Zara right now but I can go pick up some amazing vintage clothes from a thrift shop (which I absolutely love). I can’t put away a whack of money just yet, but I can spare a few hundred which I have set up to automatically transfer into my EasyEquities account each month. You’d be surprised how they add up over time, and how your little investment grows. I can’t afford to get my hair done at a fancy salon in Sandton City, but I can go to a cheaper private salon in Pretoria and skip the blow wave sometimes. And yes it does still work out way cheaper even though I have to trek 30 mins in my car. It's these little compromises that determines  how you really thrive – with the reassurance that you’re looking after your financial well-being, but also living the life you envisioned for yourself.

What is financial independence?

Being debt free, with a juicy portfolio of shares and a maxed out TFSA, and room for an overseas trip every now and then. But more than that I think it’s about empowering yourself with knowledge – know where your money goes, have a clear idea of where you want it to go and how you plan to get it there. Don’t be intimidated by your finances, own them. Slay them!

What is your number one financial priority right now?

Building up my savings again and flattening my credit card. I recently took a trip overseas and I’m feeling the financial overindulgence.

Do you have an emergency fund?

Not yet – but I’m working on it. I’m putting aside R100 each month to start and no matter what happens, I’m not touching it.

Have you ever been broke and how did you did deal with that period of your life?

I have been magnificently broke, but what always amazes me is how as humans, we adapt and make the best of our circumstances. I can remember being stuck in a parking lot and not having enough change or money in my account to pay for my ticket and having to call a mate to bring me 10 bucks. Or when I was a student and had overspent my allowance (as one does), I held jumble sales or busked (sang) for a few extra bucks. You’d be surprised what restrictions can do for your creativity, I think it’s worth embracing.

Why do you think we so easily fall into debt these days?

Because we choose short term satisfaction over our long-term goals. I’m totally guilty of this. We say things like ‘but I deserve it’ or ‘this is an emergency’ when really we know it’s not. In those moments I’m learning to take a step back or sleep on it before I so easily swipe that card. 90% of the time, I don’t end up doing it.

If you have the choice between buying a home or investing in shares, which would you choose and why?

I can only speak from personal experience on this one, because I do both. I’m a homeowner and a shareholder. I think historically you might have had to choose one or the other, but being able to invest with an amount as small as R50 has totally changed that. Owning property is hard work – there are bills, and maintenance and levy’s and rates. Let’s not forget about a bond payment that keeps going up each year. I think it’s worth buying a home if the buying price makes sense and you are prepared to live there for a lonnnnng time. For me shares are a lot less complicated and, rather, come with some unexpected benefits as opposed to expenses. For example, every now and then one of the companies I’ve invested in pays out dividends which is a nice little boost to my nest egg that I didn’t have to lift a finger for. And once I’ve decided on the companies I want to invest in, I leave my shares alone and let them grow. No maintenance needed, just time.

When you think of a comfortable retirement, what does that mean to you?

That means affording myself choices. I’d like enough money set away for me to maintain my lifestyle without being 100% reliant on a full-time salary. I can’t picture not being busy or doing anything, but when I’m older I certainly want the choice.

What’s the worst money mistake you’ve ever made, if you’ve made any and what did you learn from it?

Well, this is embarrassing but in the interest of helping people do better I’ll share. I once bought a fitness training package (I think it cost me R5000 which is a lot of money in my universe) and paid for it upfront thinking it would make me more committed. After many a visit to the physio, I realized I wouldn’t be able to continue with this type of exercise and because I paid upfront, I couldn’t get my money back. I’m still super sour about it, but I’ve learnt not to do that again.

Most people think that budgets are restrictive. Do you have a budget? If yes, why? If not, why not?

I like to think of myself as a flexitarian in all respects. Yes it’s good to have boundaries and set goals but to think that life is going to go exactly as you’ve planned is crazy. It’s not. So I’ve set some general spend and save goals and I check myself on them every month. And I try to do better and move closer to my goals. But I allow a little wriggle room, and try not to beat myself up about things when they don’t go exactly to plan.

What was the last item you regretted purchasing?

This gorgeous red jumpsuit, totally unnecessary but too lovely to resist. Now I have to find somewhere else in my monthly spend to make up for it.

Do you have rules for lending money to friends or family?

I don’t lend money but I most certainly lend my time, I think it’s more valuable anyway. Helping a family member move house so they don’t have to hire a company to do it or staying up until 2 am helping a friend with DIY wedding decorations so they don’t have to pay someone else to do it. Crowd sourcing your expenses with family and friends is important – and you can bet your bottom dollar they’ll jump in when you need it too.

Studies show that women are better investors than men, but in many households, men are still handling the investments, etc. Why do you think that is, and how is EasyEquities helping women get more involved in investing?

I think in some ways this is uncharted water for a lot of women, who because of the historical structures in society, have only been exposed to their male role models handling the financial responsibilities in a household. And though we have come a long way in terms of shifting our perceptions of gender roles there’s a lot of learning and confidence building that I think needs to happen. I think EasyEquities does this by being exactly what it is – easy. It’s not an intimidating, super formal platform and it offers a lot of educational resources for all levels of investors, especially first-timers. That helps. It’s also about sharing aspirational stories – which we have loads of – of women who are taking that first or next step in their financial journey. Whether it’s our CEO Charles Savage’s 7 year old daughter Mika who brings me a piggy bank of coins to put into her EasyEquities account every other month, or Julanie Basson, one of our EasyEquities Born2Run female runners, who invests R1 for every km she trains, or one of our Twitter followers Siwongiwe Jele, who says she’s swapped out buying concert tickets for investing in her TFSA. These stories inspire me personally, and I think open up the door for other women to take that next step, whatever it means for them.

What is the best piece of financial advice you have ever heard given to a woman?

Just start. I think sometimes we overthink and talk ourselves out of things. But once you start, the real learning and growing happens. Don’t put it off, just start – when you can do that with just R20 or R200, why not?

Follow Carly on Twitter.