Gretel Killeen on motherhood, money and making a difference


Gretel Killeen is a comedian, TV presenter, artist, actor, journalist and prolific author whose career includes hosting the Logies, Big Brother and New Year's Eve celebrations.

Just in time for Mother's Day, Killeen has released her book My Daughter's Wedding, about three generations of mother-daughter love. It features a long-lost daughter who has returned home to marry.

The character gives the job of organising the wedding to her mum who is also dealing with her own dementia-afflicted mother.

gretel killeen my daughters wedding

What has having a daughter taught you about your own mother?
She's made me look at my relationship with my own mother and at mother-daughter relationships in general. I realised how astoundingly complex, challenging and fulfilling they are.

Why did you write this book?
My daughter got married and my mum had a fall, and I was in an interesting position, like a mother-daughter sandwich. I could see the mirroring of my relationships with my daughter and with my mum.

I thought time could be running out and I really wanted to explore mother-daughter love - what is the evolutionary purpose of this intense relationship, which is so different from any other relationships in our life? We're so connected: rivals and best friends at the same time or hero and nemesis.

What was your first job?
I had many odd jobs as a child. My neighbour had an orchard about 90 minutes away and we'd get the windfall apples and sell them door to door.

With another friend we got mats with herb and flower seeds embedded and we sold them at the train station. I also mowed the lawn for 20 cents!

What did your mother teach you about money?
My lesson was to spend as little as you could. When I was a child, a woman's financial security was never even raised.

Job choices were limited. If you had a certain type of mind you'd go into law or medicine; if you had a different kind of mind you'd go into teaching or nursing. It wasn't about how to be financially independent or even marry well. At school, girls did home economics as a subject - it wasn't about economics, it was how to sew a pin cushion and make a pizza. We entered the world quite naively.

What do you hope you've taught your daughter about money?
She is creative but also a really good businesswoman with a really logical mind. She knows about hard work, and I think an important thing about money is to keep it in perspective. I believe my daughter knows that the most important investment in life is you, your friends and your loved ones.

What's the best money advice you've received?
I can't think of any I've ever received, but I love my accountant - I totally respect, trust and rely on him. My career is about adventures.

I think something people say that isn't correct is "everyone has a price" and I think it's important that if ever you find yourself in that position you should look at what you're selling for that price. I don't think everyone has a price at all. I think it's important that investments should align with your values.

What's the best investment decision you've made?
Invest in yourself and the people that you love. By this, I mean buying time for yourself, time to grow and find happiness, and live a rich life.

In what I do, sometimes that means confronting a fear of not knowing where your income is going to come from and believing in a project, and that's what I call investing in yourself.

What's the worst investment decision you've made?
I think I bought shares in a particular company the morning it collapsed, and another time there was an investment with a bank that could only go pear-shaped under extraordinary circumstances.

About three days later the GFC happened and that was exactly the kind of extraordinary circumstance in which you could lose money.

What is your favourite thing to splurge on?
I'm a huge op shop lover - my average price for clothing is $20. I love the creative experience of shopping in op-shops rather than in a shop, which I find intimidating.

Other things I like to buy are tabouli, and if I see something I know someone will love or make them laugh, I get it for them. They are not always received with the same enthusiasm.

If you had $10,000 where would you invest it?
I'd buy time with it. I'd put it in the bank for no interest, but know that I'd bought more time to work on whatever it is I'm creating.

What would you do if you only had $50 left in the bank?
We know that lots of middle-aged women are in a really difficult financial situation. I think I would be terrified.

On behalf of women in that situation, I think you have to reach out for help. I think society should help those women more.

Do you intend to leave an inheritance?
I believe in sharing everything I have with my children now, which I do, because I want to share in their joy. Hopefully I will time it perfectly to leave an inheritance, but I'd rather share it now.

What's your best money-making career move?
Every money-making career move has been an accident. I work hard and luck comes in and luck goes out.

Finish this sentence: money makes ...
... some people dickwits and other people free.

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Julia Newbould was editor-at-large and later managing editor of Money from November 2019 to February 2022. 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.