The OneUp Project: “My 5 Biggest Financial Mistakes”

Aug 9, 2021
By Staff writer

Editor’s note: Starting this month, glimp will feature guest bloggers to talk about personal finance, money management, wealth-building, and other smart dollar-saving tips. We begin with Sarah Kelsey, the woman behind financial literacy podcast The OneUp Project, to talk about her own journey.


Starting The OneUp Project, a podcast on financial literacy, was extremely exciting and challenging for me.

It opens your eyes to everything you are doing wrong. The funny thing is that the further you dive into financial literacy, the less you know. What I mean by this is that there are so many little things we can do to get OneUp on our financial situation and future self we are unaware of.

A part of this is getting over the thought that finally taking ahold of your finances is overwhelming and intimidating. This thought leads to a generation of people who are scared to discuss money and procrastinate understanding where they’re at.

When I started learning about KiwiSaver, I also found it quite intimidating. It was mainly because my family wasn’t exactly encouraging of it I felt like I was on the back foot compared to others. Launching the podcast allowed me to connect with others who felt the same and break down these common topics into an easy-to-understand format. It also resulted in understanding what the biggest downfalls were in my personal financial education. I am 22 years old but already know there are many things I could have done earlier to benefit my future self. So what are they? 

1. Taking out too much money on my university loan

While at university I was a lot more conservative with my loan compared to my friends. For the first year and a half I chose not to take living costs out and only took course-related costs for legitimately “course-related costs.”The purpose of living costs is generally for those students living out of home to help cover rent expenses, etc. I was living at home, as were all of my friends but we knew that taking out this “free money” would be beneficial to our social lives.

The same goes for course-related costs which as the name suggests is for just that but it was commonplace to spend this money on trips or socialising. When the first year and a half had passed I decided that a student loan is interest-free so why not make the most of it right? Taking out as much “free” money as I could to sustain a pretty luxurious lifestyle for a university student.

Looking back, this resulted in an unnecessary $15,000 added to my loan. However, I was still one of the better off students compared to my friends who had taken living costs out for the full three years. 

I live with no regrets, but if I was to do university again, I would have educated myself on what a loan actually was and how it worked. I obviously knew I would eventually have to pay it off, but I did not understand how much an extra $200 a week could eventually be on a three year degree.

Despite university traditionally being labeled as ‘good debt’ due to its interest-free nature providing you with an asset (your degree and higher education) at the end of it, if you can avoid excess debt, you should. 

2. Not getting into investing earlier 

When investing was first introduced to me, it was described as an activity only business professionals engaged in. It was extremely difficult to understand and took someone of extreme intellect to be good at it. After investing consistently for over a year I can now confirm that those are all myths. Investing in my opinion is a great way to build long-term wealth that can earn you a better return than having your money in the bank (especially now where the pandemic has caused interest rates to decrease.). 

The biggest benefit to investing is the passive income it can eventually generate for you over time. You often hear the word compounding in terms of interest in a bank but investing returns can compound just the same. When you are young these results can be even more dramatic because having time on your side is your greatest asset.

3. Not getting Kiwisaver when I first started working

KiwiSaver is an investment much the same as investing is in the traditional sense. You put money into KiwiSaver which your provider then distributes into the relevant assets depending on the fund type you selected. It is an investment that is done for you so that you don’t even have to do much education prior — how amazing?

I did not elect into KiwiSaver until a few years after I started working, my parents were not the biggest fans. They believed that you should be able to save your own money and be in control of it. I think what they were not understanding is the investment part.

KiwiSaver doesn’t just allow you to save money in a secure place, it invests it so that your contributions plus your employers and the governments are compounding over time. Having more time would have propelled my KiwiSaver balance forward and potentially have more positive effects on my retirement or first home figure.

My opinion here is that if you aren’t already investing separately and secure in that decision, get into KiwiSaver. The important things to remember when organising your personal KiwiSaver are; making sure you’re in the right fund type for your goals, having a provider that helps you in selecting a contribution rate suited to your needs.

Your provider is who controls your contributions and they must align with you. It does not need to be your bank and they should be able to help you with the other two decisions being your fund type and contribution rate. 


4. Thinking my decisions now don’t affect my future

For some young people or short-term thinkers, we often don’t want to view our lives too far into the future. It is scary and there are a lot of uncertainties, as the COVID pandemic has taught us. Although this is all the more reason to feel prepared, and then, as a result, feel less stressed.

It is quite easy for us to make everyday decisions like what we want for dinner or if we want to go to a party because this affects us in the very short term. 

But deciding on a KiwiSaver fund or even restricting your spending to save for a house deposit seems too out of reach and therefore not worth making an informed decision about. 

Before starting The OneUp Project Podcast, I was saving money which was productive, but I wasn’t growing wealth in an efficient way. I needed to be investing and contributing to my KiwiSaver but these decisions were not on my radar when I was too scared to confront the situation in fear of looking “dumb”.

My honest thoughts here are that procrastinating being in control of your personal finances will set you back years in terms of the wealth you could be growing. Try to work backwards and think about what you want your retirement to look like or if that really is quite far, what do you want your life to look like 10 years from now?

Then once you have written down what you want, how are you actually going to accomplish it? This way what is happening now will feel directly relevant to what you want to achieve and you can see the path to get there clearer. 

5. Getting caught in the ‘FOMO’ mentality 

I think everyone can relate to this, FOMO means Fear Of Missing Out. Essentially, it is the idea that we spend money and participate in activities because we are scared that if we don’t we are losing or missing out on something. I think this tends to affect younger people more often because we prioritise status and the outside perception so much more.

Generally speaking, we may also feel the weight of peer pressure a lot more which can affect both what we do and how we act. Sometimes, we might not even want to do half of these activities but because the social pressure feels so massive, we do it anyway. I can think of countless occasions where I have spent money to look a certain way when I was actually happy not spending that money in the first place.

A big part of avoiding this is becoming more self-aware. Are friends pressuring you? Do you feel inadequate around them? If you are answering yes to these sorts of questions then we must work out how we can remove ourselves from this situation.

Once we have acknowledged that we are falling into the pressures of society, friends, or family, how can we avoid it? As mentioned above, you can try and remove yourself fully from the situation although sometimes this is not always possible. My next step would be to have an action plan if you find yourself in a situation like this.

When you start to feel FOMO or someone pressures you, what will you tell yourself? Try to remind yourself of your goals and why this won’t contribute to them. Tell the person honestly how you feel and why you feel that way. Have an alternative or compromise that you can suggest and remember that if the people closest to you truly support you and your goals they will understand. 

I luckily have never had a credit card or gotten myself into any kind of extreme consumer debt and through the podcast have heard many stories of those who have. This can be an extremely debilitating and powerless feeling contributing to the lack of motivation around organizing your personal finances. If you are in this type of situation, reach out to someone you trust or a financial adviser who can help you.

Take what you can out of the above mistakes and know that you will get out of it! I say this because I know how many young people can get caught up in large overdrafts, loans, or buy now pay later schemes.

At the end of the day, these are all forms of debt and can be hard to part with when you are so used to using them. That is why I think it is so important to chat about the pressures of FOMO, we can’t all keep up with the highlight reels of social media and that is okay. Understand the basics and you will be so much better equipped in the long term. 

Going forward I have learned so much from all of these mistakes and now aim to educate others on the same thing. It is important to note that a lot of these mistakes weren’t one-off problems, it was more a lifestyle I was choosing to live that was holding me back.

Often reaching a place of financial confidence and freedom is not a one step fix, a lot goes into it. Good things take time as they say but this does not mean that they need to be difficult. This was the main purpose behind creating the podcast and I hope that if you found some value here you can always find it within those resources as well!


Good luck!


About the author

Sarah Kelsey is the host of The OneUp Project, a self-development and financial literacy podcast trying to simplify and break down the barriers between people and vital skills we were never taught growing up. She educates young people on money, personal finance, career, business, and self-improvement all while making it relatable and non-intimidating. 

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