This is a guest post by Vincent, CEO of Planwise. First, I adore him, he is such a genuine guy and his company Planwise seeks to help gals like you and I plan our financial lives in a way that is predictable. Raise your hand if you want to know how that new car purchase will ding your savings goals! *raises hand* This story is very near and dear to my heart because not being a slave to a high cost of living is one of my goals in life. Read Vincent’s story for more:
When I was 22 years old, I had it made.
It was 2001, my Australian tech company had just raised a ton of venture capital and because of this I moved to Sydney from sleepy old Perth. As one of the two guys running the business I put myself on a six figure salary and proceeded to work 90+ hours a week.
10 years later I walked away from Sydney and that company with:
- 2 properties, both rented, about 85% servicing the interest only payments & costs, with no equity available between them
- $65,000 in debt from a failed investment scheme which came via a financial adviser
- share trading losses in the 10s of thousands and no shares of value remaining around $15,000 in credit card debt
- a beautiful vintage car that I owed nothing on
I also walked away from that six figure salary and any replacement to it I could have easily got either in Sydney or back in Perth (which in the 10 years I was away endured the largest mining boom the world has seen, but that’s another story)
… and moved to San Francisco to start again, to pursue a dream of developing technology to help people make better financial decisions.
Coming to a new city represented a fresh start, and one of the best ways to sort out your finances is to give yourself a clean slate. My situation in Australia was essentially a zero net sum game. My net worth from my 10 years prior was zero. The remaining equity I had in houses and cars was used to pay off debt, the remainder used as startup capital for my new venture, Planwise.
From my startup capital I treated my role as an employee of the company differently from my role as owner of the company. If you want to start your own business, I think this is critical. I had found an amazing place to live and work, which was $1100/month and put myself on a salary of $1500/month.
Making it work
In technology you are in the business of solving problems, so how to live on $400/month became just another problem to be solved. Challenge accepted.
Here is what I did
- bought a scooter; $3/week in gas, <$100/year to register, <$100/year to insure
- put $20 on a travel card (not monthly) – so it was my transport option for distances to much for the scooter
- walked a lot
- went vegetarian; for me it was just easier to stop eating meat altogether, but even reducing it to once a week helps a lot.
- ate at home; virtually every meal as I was living and working from home
- lived with a baker & chef; to be fair not everyone has this luxury, but it came with the rent I was paying
- said no to events at bars and restaurants most of the time, said yes to everything at someones house or public space
- read the local press for community and/or free events in the city
- started reading books again
- no tv, no cable, no netflix
- saw major sporting events at bars
- No Brand; was a policy of mine. It sort of has been for a while, but in essence if something has a brand on it, then I am paying for the cost it takes for the company to maintain that brand. So I stopped shopping at places that were “brand central”. This meant if I was buying some t-shirts or shoes etc I was at H&M (which has no branding on its clothing) vs Levis. Same for food. I was going to local fruit & veg shops vs Safeway, Trader Joes etc
- Said no, a lot; possibly the hardest thing to do. I had (have?) a well deserved reputation for getting to things. In 2012 I have said no to 7 weddings of close friends back in Australia. It has been the hardest thing I’ve done but people understand, friendships survive and life goes on.
And then the surprise..
The first 6 months of my new regime were very tough but around the end of last year something changed. Behaviour started to become habits. In May 2012 we managed to secure a small round of funding for Planwise which enabled me to move from $1500/month to $2500/month, suddenly I had no idea what to do with the excess money. I was still living in San Francisco, in a amazing house, with a great group of people. I was taking part in interesting and diverse experiences across a broad spectrum of people. I had re-discovered djing, singing and the great outdoors. The most stressed I had ever been was mid 2008, by 2012 I have had barely a stressful day in months.
My greatest regular expense is a $2.45 tea, except now I don’t feel bad about the fact I get another 1 – 2 cups of tea from the same teabag at work later in the day. I’m saving for a beautiful bicycle which I will be able to afford in the next 2 months and instead of being down on the fact I can’t have it now, I look forward to when I will have it and use that as motivation to stick with my new found habits.
And probably the greatest outcome of all, is that the experience has helped me to truly understand how to be healthy, happy and financially secure on a basic wage, even in an expensive city.
I came to this country to try and solve this problem by developing software, but only through having had this experience will I have any hope of designing something able to help others to do the same.
Vincent Turner is the CEO of Planwise, a San Francisco based technology company that has developed a free online tool to help people make better financial decisions, specifically focused on their income, spending and debt.