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Getting back on the bike

Picture a Canberra based government employee. A certified body piercing, tattooed, Harley Davidson riding woman probably isn’t the first image that comes to mind. Then again, Emma Straney’s never been one for conventionality.

Emma sitting proud on her Harley Davidson.

She’s moved 34 times to date (thanks in part to a banking industry father whose work resulted in many family moves through her childhood) and in her early 20s she was a married, dual homeowner with the weight of responsibility on her young shoulders. A decade later, Emma was drowning, both financially and emotionally. Despite her high salary, Emma found herself living pay cheque to pay cheque and fearful of losing everything. Thankfully, her friend of over a decade, Regina Taarnby from the Gladstone Invest Blue office, recognised Emma’s troubled state and offered a much-needed shoulder to lean on. 18 months on, Emma is incredibly grateful for Reggie’s help and very proud of what they’ve achieved together.

Emma’s story shows us that even those with great financial know how can find themselves in troubling circumstances.

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She was raised by a proud and successful father who held CEO positions at major financial institutions, including overseas banks. But when he died, Emma, just 17 at the time, discovered he had left tremendous debt behind and had been too proud to ask for help. It’s why Emma places such importance on being “pulled out of the murky water” by Regina.

Having moved so often through her life, to Emma owning a home was always the goal; it represented security and stability and a sense of belonging that had been lacking in her own upbringing. And at just 24 years of age, she and her then husband owned a home in Brisbane before a move to Canberra resulted in the purchase of a second home there. But when the marriage ended a few years later, Emma, who had always been very conservative with her money, went on a spending spree. For nine months, she travelled the world and upon her return to Canberra, things spiralled. Emma found it challenging to cover the high Canberra rental prices rent alone and was too carefree with her money. She simply couldn’t find a happy medium.

As a single person, it was difficult to break into the local property market and when an opportunity presented itself to purchase a house with a friend, Emma hoped it was the turning point she needed. Sadly, everything became messy and complicated and Emma says people need to be wary about going into a financial partnership with a friend. She was able to buy out her friend but it took over three years to unravel herself from the situation and establish the home in her own name.

By late 2015 and despite her six-figure salary, Emma was living on two minute noodles due to her credit card debt, high personal loan and mortgage repayments. Reggie and Emma were catching up on the phone one night (there is, after all, 1500kms standing between them) when Reggie realised just how lost her friend was. Looking back, Emma says she was “haemorrhaging money”. Emma is an intelligent and capable woman who finds it difficult to ask for help but Reggie knew that in addition to offering her unwavering support as friend, she could also help with some vital financial strategies too.

“Reggie could see things others couldn’t. I could be completely honest with her and valued her straight-shooting approach. She handed me that rope and yanked me out. There was no easy or smooth way to do it. I needed to be ripped out,” Emma says.

Together, they started by looking at a budget to determine where Emma’s salary was all going and what could be improved upon.

Straney_w Reg

Emma made the trek from Canberra all the way up to Gladstone to catch up with long-time friend, and now honoured adviser, Reggie.

Officially a client since November 2015, this powerhouse team arranged personal insurance protection and refinanced Emma’s home loan, thereby freeing up cashflow of up to $1800 a fortnight. Emma is also embarking on renovations to the granny flat on her property so she can live comfortably in that whilst renting out her home. Additionally, she is rebuilding her wealth and looking to the future with a retirement nest egg in place not to mention, having international travel plans in place and an exciting motorbike trip mapped out for 2018.

Emma’s been surprised by just how many aspects financial planners can help clients with from debt to car loans to insurance. Even having grown up in a household of financial planners and accountants and looking at the Financial Review over her father’s shoulder from the age of eight, she didn’t realize the extent of the services available.

Emma is delighted that her only debt now is her mortgage and it’s meant the world to be able to keep her home.

“The house was my way to prove to myself after the end of my marriage that I was still able to have something of my own. I would’ve been heartbroken if I’d had to give it up.”

Emma’s pride is evident. “I think we’ve done an amazing job and I’m not sure anyone besides Reggie could have gotten me here. I went from being a straight-laced control freak about money to going too much the other way. I have a better balance now and I can see the bigger goals. I know I’ll never find myself in those circumstances again and it’s why Reggie and I are both so driven to build up my nest egg.”

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Taking a break from renovation madness for a quick selfie.

Emma will continue to work hard in her long-standing government role but will be sure to take time for herself too such as an annual holiday each year. Machu Picchu is already on the cards for this year and her beloved Harley, which brings her such freedom and sanity is always fueled up and ready for the road. Long down the track, Emma aspires to be part of the grey army travelling around Australia in her helmet and leathers.

After such struggles, life is rosy indeed but for the cherry on top, Emma would love to share her newfound stability with someone special. Her focus for now may be her upcoming trip, her renos and her work but here’s hoping the road ahead leads to someone fabulous who’s also partial to an independent black cat named Pip….


Inspired by Emma’s story? Get in touch to start your journey to a better life.

What you need to know

This information is provided by Invest Blue Pty Ltd (ABN 91 100 874 744). The information contained in this article is of general nature only and does not take into account the objectives, financial situation or needs of any particular person. Therefore, before making any decision, you should consider the appropriateness of the advice with regards to those matters and seek personal financial, tax and/or legal advice prior to acting on this information. Read our Financial Services Guide for information about our services, including the fees and other benefits that AMP companies and their representatives may receive in relations to products and services provided to you.

These clients have agreed to share their story. Everyone’s situation is different, so their choices and outcomes will be different to yours. Consider your circumstances before deciding what’s right for you.