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Interview: Frances Cook

Frances Cook, Podcast Host & Author

Some say she’s the #millennial Mary Holm, others (including herself) say she’s a financial hot mess. Frances Cook, hosts and executive produces podcasts when she’s not giving Kiwis tips on how to be better with money. We were lucky enough to pick this clever woman’s brain on all things personal finance:

Walk us through a typical day in the life of Frances

I’m both blessed and cursed with a life that’s different from one day to the next. I not only host podcasts but I also executive produce other podcasts for the Herald. So, depending on the day, I’ll be in Auckland or Hamilton, I might be in front of the camera recording a podcast, or going through a script for someone else’s podcast and checking it for legal issues. The one constant is a lot of emails, a lot of listening to audio to check for problems and a lot of talking to my Cooking the Books listeners on social media. It’s chaos, but it’s fun.

Tell us about your relationship with money when growing up?

Money was something I didn’t really talk about with my parents – a pretty common situation, in fact, plenty of married people don’t talk to each other about money either. But it did lead to me growing up and feeling like money was a big mystery, and I ended up quite anxious about it. The best thing is that there’s so much information out there once you decide to look for it.

When and what was your first investment?

Shares! I love a good index fund. From memory, I think it was just a few bucks into NZX50. Then I was hooked.

Do you have a specific investing strategy?

As little effort as possible. I’m a big believer in passive investing, buy and hold for the long term. The data shows over and over that people and their emotions are the biggest danger to their investments, so I try to take myself and my emotions out of the equation.

What’s the most interesting (or random) thing you’ve learned while hosting Cooking the Books in recent months?

That 58% of NZers don’t even tell their partner how much they earn! (From 2019 CFFC research.) I understand having separate finances, and that lots of different systems work for different people. But I just don’t understand how you can make decisions and work together without even knowing what’s coming in the door.

What are some of the most commonly asked money questions or concerns from your listeners?

Confusion about KiwiSaver and how to buy the first home are two that crop up time and time again. I think a lot of people feel locked out of the housing market at the moment, and it can almost lead to giving up on investing in their future. But even if you’re stuck in an expensive city, not being able to buy a house doesn’t mean you need to give up. There are plenty of other investments that can be just as good, if not better, for giving you financial security.

What was the ‘ah-ha’ moment that motivated you to start sorting your money situation out?

I got tired of being stressed about money all the time and started to suspect I was holding myself back – although I didn’t have a clue how. I started listening to money podcasts to figure out where I was going wrong, got frustrated there were no New Zealand ones, so started my own.

Tell us a bit about the inspiration behind writing a book (Tales from a Financial Hot Mess) and being so open about your life?

The Cooking the Books podcast is a great way for me to get bite-sized financial info into people’s lives. But sometimes people get confused about what order to do things in, or how important the different money areas are in relation to each other. So I pulled together the book to give an overview of everything the experts say the average person should do to have healthy finances.

Then I decided I might as well put my money journey in there – because I’m always telling other people they need to be more open about their money situation, so I might as well walk the talk! If nothing else, hopefully, it gives people a laugh.

Can you think of one habit that you picked up or dropped, that made a big difference to your bottom line?

Automation is huge. The reptile side of our brain is always undermining us with money, we’re just not designed for it. So I automate a chunk of money to go into savings right after I’m paid, and I automate a chunk to go straight into my shares account as well. Once it’s there, I won’t take it back out. But I know I can’t rely on myself to remember to do the right thing every fortnight. Because none of us can.

Do you have any money goals for 2020?

Don’t screw up my current progress! I think it’s really easy to get complacent and think you’ve made it. But getting money healthy is a bit like getting fit – you can’t go to the gym once and call it a day.

I’ve set myself a challenge to only buy second hand clothes this year, partly as a way of staying on budget. So far so good for #CookingTheLooks2020.

We’d love if you could share ONE thing that we can do today that might change our relationship with money for the better.

Just being more open about what’s happening with your money situation, and being ready to talk about it with friends. You don’t know what you don’t know, so not only can talking about it with friends give great moral support, but you can also learn about entirely new areas you wouldn’t have known to look into.

Loved reading Frances’ money tips? Great news! She hosted our Money Moves event in collaboration with Hatch, so there’s a lot more where that came from in the recording.

Disclaimers & Assumptions

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