As the host of Cooking the Books, one of New Zealand’s top podcasts, journalist Frances Cook is one of the country’s leading personal finance commentators. Cook released her debut, “Tales From a Hot Financial Mess”, in 2019 to a widely positive reception. Her new book “Your Money, Your Future: The Realest Guide to Finding Financial Freedom” was published in early 2022 and became one of the best-selling NZ books in the weeks following its release.
“Your Money, Your Future” covers the nuts and bolts of personal finance and achieving financial freedom. Cook presents step-by-step information to teach the reader everything from Finance 101 to FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early), how to earn more via upskilling, negotiating pay rises, side hustles and more.
Personal finance culture can often come across as restrictive. Everyone has heard the spiel of “you wouldn’t be so broke if you didn’t eat that avocado toast” or “stop buying coffee from Starbucks and invest it instead”. This mindset can become negative as it places all the blame of your financial situation on you. You spend too much money. You don’t place enough priority on investing. In reality, the amount of money you can save by restricting your spending is limited, while the amount of money you can earn is (technically) limitless. This is why I love how Cook uses chapters 3 and 4 to discuss how to actually get raises, and why you shouldn’t have an illogical attachment to where you work. Not negotiating for higher salaries, especially at the beginning of your career, becomes a difference of $1 million in lifetime earnings.
This chapter is excellent for newbie investors, and even more experienced investors can gain useful reminders here. Cook details the reasons why we need to grow our wealth before retirement (most millennials won’t be able to retire before 75 due to rising living costs, high student loan debt, and holding too much of their assets in cash) and discusses how you can invest to have the highest chance of growing your wealth in the long term. Namely, Cook details what index funds and ETFs are and explains why passive investing generally beats active investing in long-term returns. It’s an incredibly valuable reminder for anyone considering active investing — the majority of professional investors don’t beat the market over time, so what are the odds that you will?
I really liked how Cook made her book relatable to those living in New Zealand and Australia. Most of the personal finance and investing content available is incredibly US-centric. That’s great if you live in the US and need to use its financial system but can become slightly confusing when you live elsewhere and have to transpose the information you know to a different system with different rules. New Zealand, for example, has a very similar financial system to the USA but certain aspects such as 401Ks and insurance have some larger differences. Of course, most of the information that Cook presents is universally applicable. Still, some extended explanations, such as why NZ should stick with the 4% retirement rule when compared to Australia, lent to the sense that it was written for me.
“Money is the grease that keeps our lives moving, but our lives are deeply personal. Everything, everything, will need to be adapted to your own personal situation.”
- Frances Cook, Your Money, Your Future: The Realest Guide to Finding Financial Freedom
However, a running theme throughout the book is that, while Cook touches on many points, it can sometimes feel like you aren’t getting as in-depth information as you could. You can see this in the chapter on debt. Cook makes an excellent case of why paying off your current debts is essential and outlines two basic strategies to accomplish it: The debt avalanche and the debt snowball. While both methods are effective, I wish Cook went into more detail surrounding the positives and negatives. It’s generally understood that the debt avalanche is the best on paper if we consider human emotion and motivation, but the debt snowball method comes out on top. But that’s expected from a book that only runs about 250 pages. It’s not meant to teach you the ins and outs of high-level financial concepts — it’s supposed to give you an introduction to examining your finances and sorting out ways to achieve financial freedom. At that, it’s more than successful.
The afterword “The money manual” and the glossary are excellent additions to the book. By adding these towards the end of the book, Cook gives some quick lessons you can understand at just a glance and useful personal finance definitions. Having these all in one spot lets you refresh your memory quickly without flicking through the entire book for a specific page.
Overall, I would recommend “Your Money, Your Future: The realest guide to finding financial freedom” to all New Zealanders and even Australians. It has to be said that personal finance books focused on personal finance in general or the USA specifically are a dime a dozen. Ones that present personal finance through a Kiwi lens are much harder to come by and thus far more valuable for New Zealanders.
In her afterword, Cook says, “Money is the grease that keeps our lives moving, but our lives are deeply personal. Everything, everything, will need to be adapted to your own personal situation.” I think that’s one of the good things about this book. As the title suggests, it’s your money and your future, so Cook gives you the information so that you can adapt it to your situation.
Book cover used in banner image from Penguin Random House
Anton is PocketSmith’s Marketing Coordinator and is currently completing his BComSci degree in Marketing and Ecology alongside working at PocketSmith. Anton started his investing journey in high school and hasn’t looked back since. He’s a strong proponent of index investing, although he still likes the thrill of individual stocks on the side.