Bernard Salt on learning to budget and his best investment decision


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Bernard Salt is Australia's foremost demographer, a futurist, columnist, business adviser and author.

He is able to interpret demographic data to show how social and cultural changes reshape the way we live, work and form relationships.

His job didn't exist until he created it and now his work has uncovered Australians' yearnings for a sea change and smashed avocado, and his skills are in huge demand during the pandemic.

bernard salt smashed avo hot seat

What was your first job?

As a teenager I had odd jobs like mowing lawns and cutting bushes. Those sorts of jobs were good in terms of meeting other people and dealing with adults who weren't your parents and who wanted you to work and complete a job to a standard. I enjoyed that.

It was great training for my career as a writer with the newspaper - editors are like parents and doing it to a standard means it gets published.

My first professional job was as a research officer at the Geelong Regional Commission, a planning and development authority that administered Geelong in the early 1980s.

I was introduced to the Australian Bureau of Statistics bulletins on population and I was fascinated by these obscure, bizarre documents that measured the movements of the Australian people on a micro level, and I would study them.

What's the best money advice you've received?

The best advice was given to me by my mother. It was by example in a working-class family - Mum controlled the finances, managed the household budget and raised six children on a working man's wage in country Victoria.

Living in a commission house, she did it by writing down every item of expenditure. In my early years of running a household that's what I did. It's a really good lesson for people starting out.

What's the best investment decision you've made?

To buy a house early, at the age of 24. My wife was teaching and I was still studying, but I was working three jobs, and the big thing at that time (1981) was that everyone in our peer group married at age 21 and 22 and we did not go overseas but bought a house.

We were raised by people who had lived through the Great Depression and war.

What's the worst investment decision you've made?

I don't know that I've made a "worst" decision, but I don't think the self-managed super fund logic works for everyone.

What you're saying is you think that you can deliver a better result than people who are professional at this and have a lifetime's experience of it. I tend to think a good super business is probably safer in a herd unless you are an alpha investor.

What is your favourite thing to splurge on?

Travel. My wife and I travel to Europe every Australian winter (not this year). We have a son in Copenhagen and a daughter in San Francisco, so we come home that way.

I'm 63 and I need to be slowing down and I would like to be able to spend more time, particularly in the Melbourne winter, travelling, nothing fancy, and just connecting with the kids.

If you had $10,000 to invest where would you invest it?

I would divide it between my children and put it into an account for each of them.

What would you do if you had only $50 left in the bank?

I would make it stretch until I had more money in the bank and use as required: note every cent and rationalise every cent.

Do you intend to leave an inheritance?

Yes, but it's a macabre calculation. I'll start to give it away to my kids as I see mortality approaching. I don't want to hoard everything and then they get it all. When I look back to my 20s and 30s, that's when you need support.

When did you first realise the great significance of the work you do?

In 2002 I published a book called The Big Shift and almost immediately I was asked to speak at conferences and I realised the time and effort to speak and the remuneration far outweighed the time and effort put into consulting. It was a better way for the future.

Finish this sentence: money makes...

Life easier. It's important, but don't let it govern your life or change your behaviour.

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Julia Newbould is one of the hosts of the Friends With Money podcast. She was previously editor of Financial Planning and Super Review magazines; managing editor at InvestorInfo and at Morningstar Australia. Julia co-authored The Joy of Money, a book on women and personal finance. She holds a Bachelor of Economics from the University of Sydney where she serves on the alumni council.

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