My Story – and it ain’t that glamorous

Published by Selwyn on

Founder's story — trust me, it aint that glamorous!

Hands up if you think the Give Better founder should be good with money? Well, I’m afraid you’ll be quite disappointed …

Here’s my story — a sober and rather unflattering reflection on my financial life. But more importantly, it unpacks the incredible journey I’ve been on which explains why I’m so passionate about Give Better.

The thing is, Give Better was not birthed out of any particular financial expertise on my part. For the reality is I’m not that great with budgets and financial planning and I’m fairly prone to impulsive buying. That’s ok, the point is not to beat myself up about this. But that sets the scene for the story that follows.

If you are already bored (I don’t blame you) and want the quick version, I recommend this video — which is an excert from the longer video and podcast

Still with me? Let’s get back to the story and wind back the clock a few years to my early university days.

                                                    My financial ‘coming of age’

I call this my financial ‘coming of age’ because before then, I didn’t really have much money to spend, and even less occasion to spend it. When I washed up, fresh and eager, onto the shores of Auckland University, everything changed. All of sudden I had considerably more money (some from work, but mostly student loan), and I had ample time and opportunity to spend it. And as my parents love to remind me, spend it I did!

I have to stress that everyone’s experience is different, not least at university. I come from a privileged background, and that’s reflected in my story. But bear with me; you’ll soon see, I hope, that Give Better is versatile enough to play a role in almost everyone’s story. 

So, yes, I spent a lot. Let me describe a fairly typical week by summarising just three of the categories of my spending during those heady days:

  • Skipping lectures (boring!) and spending most of my days socialising in cafes drinking flat whites and eating camembert paninis = $80
  • Binge buying books on my kindle, but often not reading them = $40
  • A subscription service I barely used = $20
  • An expensive phone plan I didn’t need = $40
  • A membership for a gym I barely attended = $15

I need to pause here with a timely reminder. At Give Better, we’re not in the business of saying this or that spending is right or wrong. You’ll have to look elsewhere if you were hoping for such heavy-handed moralism. So whether you spend more or less than I did, on similar or different things — that whole discussion is beside the point. We’re not interested in guilt or shame, but in the joy and adventure of discovering something better — for the world, and also for you & me. 

My journey struck a new course when I stumbled across two insights that fundamentally changed my thinking — and in time, my habit.

You might think the first insight is blindingly obvious. But for me, it changed everything. 




We’re not interested in guilt or shame, but in the joy and adventure of discovering something better

                       Insight One: My purchases don’t always make me happy

Obvious in theory, perhaps, but so hard to live by How often do I buy things, mindlessly or impulsively, thinking that it will make me happy? But it then the thing I just purchased turns out to be not that great. What’s more, I might even regret my spending straight after. Certainly, I often don’t enjoy it nearly as much as I expected to. 

                      Insight Two: I could give (and save) WAY more than I thought 

The second insight took even longer to accept. Like many uni students, and young pros, I saw myself as time rich, but money poor. In some ways, that was true.

But slowly I began to see that, with small changes in my spending habits, I had the potential to unleash a HUGE amount of giving and saving. Let’s be clear: it’s not like I  became an ascetic. For me at least, the fruit hung so low it was almost scrapping the ground:

  • with 30 minutes of admin, I could move to a cheaper subscription service, and a cheaper, more suitable phone plan – and voilà, that’s $30 a week redirected to giving and saving;
  • by canceling my credit card on my kindle, discovering the public library (who knew?), and limiting myself to one kindle purchase per fortnight (which was actually as fast as I could keep up), I could free up another $30; and
  • with just a tad more mindfulness, I could cut my café spending in half and barely notice the difference while redirecting another $40.

Take stock for a moment, fellow travelers. Right there, that’s $100 a week. 

                                    The magic is in the combination

It sounds straightforward on paper, of course. The reality was anything but. Because you know what, when I first realised I was spending heaps, I just felt kinda stink and ashamed. Sometime, those feelings provided enough impetus for me to pluck up my courage and try a few budgeting tools and attend some financial workshops.

They have their place, but for me — and I suspect for many others — they accomplished little except to make me feel worse. The various budgeting strategies were complicated, and in time, I would invariably slip up, and feel like a failure. I needed something easy, something I couldn’t fail at.

But the deeper issue was that, even though I knew I should spend less, I just wasn’t motivated to change. I’m sorry, but I just don’t get excited by budgets, or numbers on a screen – even if it’s my savings. Some do. My wife does. But I don’t.

Cue those two insights I just mentioned. I began to design ‘Give Better experiments’ for myself. I’d limit my kindle spending, so I could give some of the difference to World Vision. Or drive less, and record my petrol savings. And then give to City Mission.


That sort of thing. It was honestly a huge amount of fun. And for once, really motivating. Slowly, in fits and starts and roundabouts, my spending habits began to change.





But the deeper issue was that, even though I knew I should spend less, I just wasn’t motivated to change. I’m sorry, but I just don’t get excited by budgets, or numbers on a screen – even if it’s my savings. 


Let’s bring this story into land. The journey for me has been slow, certainly not an overnight change; and my natural inclination is still to be impulsive and sometimes pretty mindless. That’s ok. I can still embrace those moments (like this morning) walking past a cafe when I think ‘Oooooh, I’d love a hot-hoc right now’. Life is full of good things!

But, all up, this journey has been nothing short of transformative. I’m more aware of my financial life, more mindful of my spending. I give more & save more than, previously, I would have ever thought possible — over the last few years, we’re talking 1000s of dollars. 

But what’s more, it feels great. It’s no miserly existence. I’m happier. Less stressed about money. Delighted about giving. And better able to savour my purchases (to pause before I tuck into that Sunday brunch with friends and think, “yes this is good, I’m going to savour this”.)  

The journey is very much ongoing, but I like where it’s headed. 

Why not join me?

Categories: Our Vision