Money guru Effie Zahos tips $150 into her “splurge” account every fortnight.
Money guru Effie Zahos tips $150 into her “splurge” account every fortnight.

The family disaster that made me a money guru

FINANCIAL guru Effie Zahos was just three years old when her mother saved her life.

Her family, led by two hardworking Greek migrant parents, owned a fish-and-chip shop in the coastal NSW city of Wollongong.

One night, while her father was overseas, the whole place went up in flames.

Even today Zahos is brought to tears as she recalls what happened.

She was with her then six-year-old sister Alex and nine-month-old brother Kosta. "The three of us were upstairs," she said.

"The only way to get back out of the shop was to go back downstairs - through the flames." Lucky for them, a truck driver saw what was happening and pulled up.

"Once Mum saw the place on fire, she literally threw us on top of the roof of the semi-trailer truck. Each child was thrown and she jumped."

The family lost everything they owned in the blaze.

"They thought they had home and contents insurance but instead they were sold loan insurance," Zahos told News Corp.

"It was only when they went to claim did they realise they didn't have any insurance."

 

This hard-earned lesson may be why the now 48-year-old developed a keen interest in finance from a young age, and went on to study a Bachelor of Economics at The University of Queensland.

Her parents encouraged Zahos to move so when she was offered a job by Westpac which involved a relocation to Sydney, she didn't waver at the opportunity.

Zahos describes herself as having been "wet behind the ears" in her career as a banker, but her knack for being so relatable helped her pave a career in journalism.

For the past two decades she has edited Money magazine, working alongside financial stalwart Paul Clitheroe.

And she has become one of Australia's top economics experts, helping unravel complex money problems and making them relatable to everyday Australians.

Just don't dismiss her as a simple "money guru".

"Those who know me - whether they are in the industry or not - know that I take what I do very seriously," she explained.

"Do some people think I'm just fluff? Maybe, but I don't focus on that.

I was one of the first women to go on a national morning TV show and talk about money in a fun, accessible way.

Effie Zahos with money expert Paul Clitheroe who have helped teach Australians how to become better with their cash.
Effie Zahos with money expert Paul Clitheroe who have helped teach Australians how to become better with their cash.

There's nothing to be embarrassed about helping people engage with their finances in ways they thought they never would.

All I'm really concerned about are consumers. It's their opinions that count."

Zahos points out that many Aussies don't learn enough about managing money from an early age, a concern that prompted her to write her second book, A Real Girl's Guide to Money: From Converse To Louboutins, which she hopes will put more women in healthy financial stead.

It has tips for how to become a successful budgeter, save for a house deposit and pivot your finances if you fall pregnant.

And she stresses that financial matters can often differ greatly for women.

"While I'm very proud of the fact that more women are educating themselves, earning more and significantly contributing to their household income, it does come at a price," warns Zahos.

"Traditional roles are still played out by women.

"They continue to perform most of the housework, take on childcare duties and take time out of the workforce.

"This [means] women prioritise their financial matters differently to men - great at short-term matters like paying bills, but not so much time focusing on financial wealth."

Zahos blames rising costs of living and spiralling credit-card debts - Australians owe more than $51.9 billion on credit cards and $31.4 billion of that is accruing interest - for many of today's monetary problems.

There is a sound piece of advice she received from Clitheroe years ago that she continues to share with others today: "Paul said, 'It's not what you earn that counts, it's what you spend.'"

As for her own finances, Zahos keeps her money separate from her husband, who is self-employed in demolition and excavation, even if they share common goals.

"I'm not frugal to the point that I don't go to the movies or dinner.

As long as I meet my goals and I'm investing and saving, if I have got money left over to go on a holiday and splurge it, I will."

Every fortnight, the finance expert tips $150 into her "splurge" account.

Once the balance adds up she doesn't have a problem splashing it on clothing from labels such as Scanlan Theodore.

And for those with kids - which are an admittedly massive financial burden - she highlights that the cost of raising two children until age 24 can cost up to $812,000 for a typical middle-income family. Zahos knows this all too well, having two children of her own, daughter Nicky, 17, and son Kosta, 12.

While her parents may never have spoken to her about money, Zahos is determined that her own kids understand its value. "If you work hard, are honest with yourself and believe in what you are doing, you can get whatever you want."

A Real Girl's Guide To Money by Effie Zahos (Bauer Media Books, $24.99) is out now.

sophie.elsworth@news.com.au