Beating the Odds

On Tuesday afternoon the nation got its new favourite daughter.

When jockey Michelle Payne gave her now infamous “get stuffed” speech, it was hard not to get swept away in the magic of her story.

Well, let’s get swept up in it for a moment, because there are learning lessons here for the rest of us.

Payne is the youngest of ten kids. Her mother died when she was six months old. She works in a profession that is dominated by men, and as a consequence she’s been the ‘second pick’ for most of her career.

Yet she was determined to win, no matter what.

Even when she fractured her skull, bruising her brain, in 2004.

Even when she fell and broke her back, in 2012.

Even when some of the owners of her Melbourne Cup ride tried to ditch her.

She kept going, no matter what.

Here’s the thing I’ve worked out about totally committed people: eventually, they win.

Payne stared down her doubters, and on Tuesday she proved them all wrong.

So with that let me introduce you to a few women who are living in the spirit of Michelle Payne.

Breaking Bad

Rebecca is a young single mum from Western Sydney, who has lived her entire adult life on welfare.

Just like her mum.

A few years ago, she read my book in a doctor’s surgery (!), and caught a glimpse of a way out.

There was only one problem: she knew she needed a job, but she was sure that no one would employ her. After all, she wasn’t qualified for anything, and hadn’t even completed high school. Throw in a testy-toddler, and it was almost too hard. Almost.

She was determined to break the cycle for her daughter.

After a steady stream of rejections, Rebecca scored an administrative position at a local engineering business. And then she lived happily ever after, right?

No. She’s employed as a trainee with a minimal wage. So even though she’s working, money is still incredibly tight. Child care is a mix of commercial centres and paying her friends, and that means that all she can save is about $20 a week into her ‘Mojo account’.

The truth is that for many young single mums it’s line ball between welfare and work…which is why most of Rebecca’s single-mother mates don’t work full time, and probably never will.

Not Rebecca though. She’s proving them wrong.

The No Nothing Investor

When I first met Bronwyn, she admitted she knew ‘less than nothing’ about investing.

She was divorced, and in her fifties. The little super she had was in a god-awful MLC blended super fund (the equivalent of doing your grocery shopping at David Jones).

Bronwyn is entirely normal: a survey by industry fund HESTA earlier this month found that nearly half of all women said that they don’t know how to take action to boost their super.

In other words, it’s all too freaking hard (and boring), so why bother trying to get your head around it?

Yet Bronwyn is determined she’ll retire with dignity.

So she has invested the time to understand the basics of superannuation. More importantly, she actually applied what she’s learnt to her own situation: moving her super into a low-cost fund, and selecting her own asset allocation, based on weeks of careful research.

And here’s the thing: the research suggests she’s going to win. A US study by Vanguard found that female investors outperformed males during the GFC by three percentage points.

Why?

Well, women are smarter than men. Only kidding. But they do have less testosterone, which means they’re generally more risk-averse, and less likely to trade in and out of stocks (which ultimately lowers returns).

Moreover, once women have an investment plan in place that they understand, the research suggests that they tend to stick to it, instead of second-guessing themselves, and bailing out at the bottom.

Finally, repeated studies have found that women save more of their income than men, and in later years they direct that money to long-term retirement investments, which is the golden goose of retirement planning.

Yet while this research is amazingly positive, it really only applies to women like Bronwyn who are engaged with their finances. Most women (like most men) think it’s all too hard.

The truth is that statistically, women retire on roughly half of what men will.

Not Bronwyn though. She’s proving them wrong.

You Can Win Your Own Melbourne Cup

Each year I have thousands of people contact me asking for financial advice.

I’m convinced that most of the time, most of the people already have a decent idea on what they need to do. The difference is whether they’re willing to back themselves to actually do it.

That’s the lesson we can learn from Michelle Payne.

She had no reason to believe that she could take out Australia’s richest race. Seriously, the odds were stacked against her: 100 to 1.

Yet it’s also clear that she never doubted she’d eventually win: how many seven year olds tell their school friends that they’d one day win the Melbourne Cup? And 23 years later, as she held the Melbourne Cup, she reflected: “It panned out exactly how I thought it would. I couldn’t work out why I was so calm. It was like it was meant to be.”

Payne backed herself. She proved them wrong. So can you.

Tread Your Own Path!

Photo: Andy Brownbill / AP Photo