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Christmases past, present and future

They say Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year; but it can also be one of the most expensive.  Without careful preparation and planning, the festive season can quickly turn into a burden of mounding expenses, debt and stress.

With only five days until the main event now, many of us are at the peak of our Christmas pressures. With this in mind, you may be thinking it’s too late to be planning to ease the anxieties caused by the time of year.

Well you’re wrong.

While it’s probably true it’s too late to plan for this year’s Christmas, there’s something to be said for learning from past and present mistakes to plan for the future; Christmas is an annual event after all!

So, how can we prepare things ahead of time for next Christmas and reduce this financial anxiety? To answer this, let’s first look at how much we’re actually spending during the silly season.

How much are Australians spending on Christmas?

Research conducted by MoneySmart has found that on average we spend the following amounts per state on Christmas gifts for our loved ones;

(Infographic via MoneySmart. (1) Commonwealth Bank, Xmas Spending Survey – November 2016. Note: due to low sample sizes in ACT, NT and TAS, figures for spending in these areas are not included. (2) Finder.com.au, Festive season in full swing: How the nation will cope with financial pressures – December 2016)

But it’s not just Christmas that has us spending; with New Year celebrations, more often than not we are still catching up on the additional expenses rolling into the first few months of the new year.

If this all sounds familiar (and hits a little close to home), remember it’s never too early to start thinking about next year’s Christmas. By thinking ahead and putting a strategy in place for the future, you can try to avoid the stress you may be feeling now.

How can we learn from our Christmas past?

We’re right in the thick of the Christmas season at the moment. Shopping centre car-parks are like hell on earth and debts may be piling up like presents under the tree. As our stress levels peak, now is the time to take stock of what’s going wrong in the mad rush.

Just like Santa, it’s time to make a list (or two, or three…)

  • Write down everyone you need to buy gifts for
  • Place a dollar figure next to everyone on that list – at this point, it should be how much you’ve spent on that person
  • Write down how much you are spending on festivities (decorations, incidental gifts, food, drink)

Now you’ve got your lists, check them twice, three times even four times. Identify where changes can be made. For example, do you really need to buy gifts for all those people – or can the dollar figure next to their name come down for next year?

Having multiple lists can help you organise all the essentials for any occasion as well as prepare you for the outlay in which it will all cost.

How can we stay sane in Christmas present?

Take a breath. There are 168 hours in a week, so think about how you can use that time wisely.

In these days leading up to Christmas, try and find ways that you can make things easier for yourself. It may be as simple as freezing your leftovers from your Christmas feast, so you have ready-made meals into the new year, saving you time and money.

If you have regular bills that come in at this time of year, consider putting the money for these aside now so you’re prepared.

You could even organise to have your groceries home delivered, helping you avoid the supermarket during this hectic period and saving you time at the checkout – time you could spend doing other things to keep you sane!

How can we prepare for our Christmas future?

As the festive season winds down, we can start thinking about the year ahead, rebuild our savings and pay off debts from the year before. Once your Christmas present moves into the past, it’s time to start putting together a strategy so your Christmas future is a breeze.

Start off by creating a budget, consulting the lists compiled as you reflected on your Christmases past, to identify spending patterns and how much you need to save.

But before you set yourself a savings target, you will need to identify how much you earn and what expenses are set, so you can work out how much you can allocate to your Christmas savings goals. Be realistic with your targets, and remember there’s more to life than Christmas – you likely want to allocate savings to other things as well.

Think about separating your savings into different accounts – one can be dedicated to Christmas. Start putting money in this straight away.

When it gets closer to Christmas, look at your savings and try to spend only what you’ve put aside, and not just for the sake of it. But don’t worry, you don’t have to be a scrooge with your money; with early preparation and simple cash flow management strategies, there are still ways to have finances available for most of life’s little luxuries within the means of your budget.

To help you budget, consider taking advantage of cash flow management software, like Xero, which allows you to clearly see all your accounts, where your expenses are going and how much you are saving. This can be a very useful tool if you are juggling a few different budgets, saving for a range of different items/events or if you wish to have more control over your finances in general.

It can also map your progress with a series of graphs and visual prompts – a great resource to help you stay on track.

The beauty of Xero is that it allows you to quickly reconcile your transactions in an efficient manner, holding you accountable for where your money is going. For more information on Xero and how it can help you budget, please speak with one of our advisers.

Any other tips?

When it comes to gift giving, think of ways you can minimise your expenditure. Getting ideas from the table below is a great place to start.

Gift Savings Strategies Gift Fundamentals
  • Play Secret Santa
    Only buying for one family member or friend within your group will save you lots of money
  • Shop online
    This can save you time by getting items delivered to your home and avoiding queues at the shops
  • Use saved rewards points you have acquired over the year
  • DIY gifts
    Making your own gifts can be therapeutic to create and meaningful to the person receiving the gift
  • Gift vouchers
    If you have to send gifts interstate, this can be a method of saving on postage as they’re light to post or can be sent by email
  •  Re-gift
  • Donations
    You are eligible to claim on donations to an approved organisation for donations made between $2-$150
  • Manage expectations
  • Do not spend beyond your means
    Refer to your budget and understand your money commitments
  • Avoid getting caught up on impulse shopping
    Continue to refer back to your list
  • Remember you don’t have to keep up with the Joneses (or Kardashians)
  • Ask yourself what you value: gifts vs quality time with your family
  • Are the gifts a need or a want?
  • Be careful of interest free traps


Hopefully, by employing some of the tips in this guide, you can start your new year with a Christmas cracker bang and set yourself up not to break the bank next festive season.

If you would like more information on how you can budget for the festive season, or how to overcome debt, please do not hesitate to contact our office on 1300 726 082 and speak with one of our financial advisers today.

Sending your child to school – what’s the cost?

Deciding where to send your child to school can be a daunting task, especially for first time parents. Your child is entirely affected by your decision, the pressure is on – you’ve got to make the right choice!

Out of all the things to consider, the most important is whether you think your child will be happy at that school. Let’s face it – an unhappy child is the last thing you want, and they aren’t going to thrive in any kind of learning environment feeling that way.

As well as your child’s wellbeing, finances are a massive factor to consider. We all want the best for our children, but how much will it cost?

School fees

There’s more than meets the eye when you’re considering the price of sending your child off into the big, scary world of education. The first thing to get your head around? School fees. Fees can vary from a few hundred to several thousand dollars per year, but there are additional factors to consider on top of just the annual fee:

  • Is there an added enrolment fee to be paid up front?
  • Do the fees stay the same throughout primary school (allowing for CPI increases), or do they scale up each year as your child progresses through their school years?
  • Is there a discounted fee per child – when more than one of your children attends the school?
  • Are there any compulsory fees or levies – such as IT levies, building or maintenance levies?


Getting your hands on a list of items your child will need in the classroom is a very wise move. You’ll know exactly what you need to buy, allowing you to budget and prevent any unwanted surprises. Some schools have very specific stationery requirements; you might need to buy specific pencils or maybe you’ll be required to purchase a schoolbag branded with the school emblem.

On top of the stationery is technology. Are you obliged to purchase an iPad or tablet for your child? Or are they provided by the school? Sometimes you’re required to supply your child with an iPad as early as prep – including some public schools! If you’re in this position, check to see if the school offers any kind of bulk buying arrangement as that’ll save you some cash.


Many school policies dictate the entire uniform be purchased through their own uniform shop – right down to your child’s socks! If you’re able to purchase the basics from retail stores such as Kmart or Big W, this will save you a considerable amount of money. Grab a copy of their uniform pricing list as it is well worth calculating the cost of fitting your child out for school. Most schools will require their students to have a summer, winter and sports uniform. By the time you add in a hat, jacket and school shoes, it’s pricey!

Also remember that your child is growing and the uniform will need replacing as they get older. It’s an ongoing expense and certainly one not to overlook. To help save some money, ask if the school or parents association operates a swap and sell – second hand uniforms can get you through the early years while your child is still growing.


Choosing a school nearby that you and your child could walk or bike to will obviously save you money in terms of transport costs. But if your only options are public transport, driving or a school bus run by a private company, you’ll need to figure out the cost and add that to your consideration.


Excursions and camps are another factor to add to the pile. Most schools consider these an additional expense on a pay-as-you-go basis. Every so often there are schools that include these as part of their curriculum and therefore part of their annual fees. But don’t forget hidden costs such as music lessons, dance classes and after school care – if they’re not included in your school fees, you could be slugged with some hefty bills.

As you can see, it’s worthwhile adding up ALL the costs of sending your child to school, not just the annual fee. A school that has higher upfront fees may seem like the more expensive option, but if they offer cheaper uniforms, provide the technology and you live close by, it’ll end up being cheaper in the long-run.

These days, a lot of schools are happy to offer a weekly or fortnightly direct debit scheme to make it easier for you to pay the bills throughout the course of the year. However, some schools still request payment upfront at the beginning of the year, semester or term.

With all things considered, you may need to start saving now and think about speaking to a financial adviser who can put you on the path to improved budgeting and cash flow management. With the right planning and structures in place, you can be prepared for any surprises thrown your way as your child embraces every opportunity presented to them over their thirteen years at school.

Call us on 1300 726 082 or send us a message to find out how you can make plans to help you afford the best education for your children.

Stepping into minimalism

Minimalism. When most people hear that word, they immediately think of hippies who sell all their possessions and live out of a suitcase. But in actual fact, minimalism can mean something different for everyone and in this day and age, most of us can benefit from minimising aspects of our ever so busy lives.

The Minimalists – a duo who run a popular minimalism blog – sum it up perfectly: Minimalism is a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important—so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom.
Sounds pretty good doesn’t it? Unfortunately for a lot of us, our financial life is far from minimalistic. We are a generation that is obsessed with credit cards, Afterpay and spending money we don’t have. However, there are definitely ways we can streamline it all, to keep it simple so we can spend more time focusing on the things that actually matter.
1. Find your Super!
Remember your first job where you had to sign up for a super fund and you had absolutely no idea what you were doing? And then you did the same at your next job? Sounding familiar? A lot of us have multiple super funds in which we have money just sitting there, not knowing what we are invested in and how well our fund is doing. The problem with this is that you’re most likely paying administration fees for each of those funds, for no reason at all!
Nowadays, you can simply roll the funds into one single fund via myGov. However it is always beneficial to seek professional advice, as you do not want to close a fund that has a great insurance policy within it, or end up in a super fund that isn’t generating good returns.2. Go paperless
It’s 2017, get with the times! You can go without those paper statements that you always throw into the back of your drawer and never look at again. Most things nowadays are digital, so spend a couple of hours going through all your statements and bills and switch to paperless where possible. Trust me, it will be worth it – for you and the environment. And anything that needs to be sent via post, you can just take a photo of it and save it. This is also great for your receipts come tax time.
3. Say bye to buying
How often do you buy something just because it’s on sale? “There’s 30% off, I’ll just have a quick look…” you say. All of a sudden, you’ve maxed out your credit card again and have to live on tuna for the rest of the week. Minimalism is not about never buying new clothes and rotating between three t-shirts; it is about calculated purchases, quality not quantity, needs not wants. With that being said, no one needs that pair of Louboutins but it’s about finding that balance – taking a step back and asking yourself “will I actually use/wear these?” and “am I just buying it because it’s on sale?”You will find that by making more mindful purchases, you will spend less on things that just sit collecting dust. Beside from having less clutter, you will have more dollars to spend on things that will enrich your life . . . such as those highly coveted red soles.
4. Cut the card
One of the things that weighs us down mentally is debt, and it doesn’t help that we now have all the options available when it comes to spending money we don’t have: credit cards, Afterpay, personal loans… you know what I’m talking about. If you’ve managed to rack up an impressive amount of debt over the years, consider limiting yourself to just one card with a sensible and manageable limit so that you’re not paying multiple annual card fees and having to remember when eight different monthly bills are due.Simplifying your financial life and taking a few steps into the world of minimalism can help you on your way to achieving your financial goals. By applying a few of the points mentioned above, you can help relieve some anxiety that goes along with managing your money and sooner or later you’ll be able to bask in the glory of your stress-free financial life.

To jump start your journey to a life of minimalism, speak to a financial adviser on 1300 726 082 who can help map out ways to reduce your spending and declutter your finances.


General Advice Warning: This advice may not be suitable to you because it contains general advice that has not been tailored to your personal circumstances. Please seek personal financial advice prior to acting on this information.

How to apply for NRAS in 10 simple steps

Are you getting bogged down when trying to submit your application for a property under the National Rental Affordability Scheme (NRAS)? Let us help make the process easy for you.

Step 1
Check that you’re eligible

Ensure that you earn below the income cut off for your household composition (check out current limits here).

Income levels are assessed against gross income limits, according to the household composition; that is, everyone who tenants the property. Everyone who is to live in the NRAS home must have their income included as a member of the household.

When first applying for an NRAS property, the household’s gross income for the 12 months prior to commencement of tenancy must be equal to or less than the relevant income limit for the household’s composition (i.e. the first column in the table above). After tenanting the property, household income may then increase above the income limit. However, a dwelling ceases to be eligible for an incentive if the tenants’ household income exceeds the applicable household income limit by 25 per cent or more in two consecutive eligibility years (i.e. the second column in the table above).

Step 2
Get in touch with the property manager

Contact the listed property manager, to provide you with an NRAS application. Note that NRAS applications are NOT completed on 1Form as per other properties; there is an alternative application process.

Step 3
Read everything in detail

Once you have received the NRAS application from the agent, please ensure you read through ALL documents carefully as there is a lot of information that needs to be provided along with supporting documentation.

If you fail to submit all documentation, the process will take longer and you will run the risk of losing the property to somebody who has supplied all the relevant documents.

Step 4
Complete the NRAS Income Questionnaire

Fill in the NRAS Income Questionnaire (provided with application forms).

Step 5
Fill in the tenant consent form

In the address section you need to put in the address of the property that you are applying for, not the property where you are currently living.

Please leave the Dwelling ID and Housing Provider sections of the form blank, as these are for the property manager to complete.

Step 6
Fill in the residential tenancy agreement

This must be completed with all of your details, employment and rental history. Please leave the NRAS tenancy checklist blank for your property manager to complete.

Step 7
Prepare and supply all supporting documentation

In order to finalise your tenancy application there are a range of documents that are needed in order to support your application.

We require:

Primary documents

Gross (before tax) employment income (from all employers)

  • 12 months’ worth of bank statements
  • Three recent payslips
  • PAYG payment summary or Notice of Assessment for financial year ended 30 June 2017.

If you are self-employed we will require proof of income

  • Profit and loss statement for 12 month prior to assessment period
  • Statutory declaration confirming the net income for the 12 month period prior to assessment period
  • Business account bank statement

If you receive Centrelink Allowances and Pensions

  • Centrelink payment history report for 12 months prior to the assessment period
  • Most recent income statement

Other documents

If you have received financial support from family/friends

  • Statutory declaration confirming the source of income and the amounts received during the 12 month period

If you received a scholarship or grant

  • Letter from the institution providing the scholarship or grant and confirming of the amount being paid

All other income

  • Statutory declaration confirming the source of income and the amount received during the 12 month period prior to assessment

No Income

  • Statutory declaration confirming that no income was received from any source during the 12 month period prior to entering a lease.

Step 8
Submit your application

Once you have the documents required for your situation please send through an email to your property manager, with all documents attached, or come into our office to hand in a hard copy of your application. Supplying all documentation all at once makes the process much faster and you have a better chance of being approved.

Once we have received your application in full, we will process this for review with the housing provider.

Step 9
Wait for your eligibility to be confirmed

Once confirmation of eligibility is received from the housing provider, we will put forward your application for approval by the owner. The assigned property manager will call to update you of the outcome, usually within 48 hours of receiving eligibility and approval.

The NRAS application does take some time, so patience is key during this process. Once the application is lodged with the housing provider, it does become a waiting game – but you can be assured that you will be kept you informed as updates become available.

Step 10
Owner approves application

Once you’ve met eligibility and have been approved by the owner, CONGRATULATIONS! You’re now ready to organise a move in date and settle in to your new home.

NRAS can be confusing – but carefully following these steps can simplify the process. If you have any questions about NRAS or about current rental availability, please do not hesitate to contact The Hopkins Group today!

Want to learn more about NRAS? Watch this helpful video for an overview of the scheme and what you need to know before applying. 

Looking for property to lease? Check out The Hopkins Group’s current listings.

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The Hopkins Group

Street Address

Level 23, 500 Collins Street, Melbourne, VIC 3001

Postal Address

GPO Box 4347, Melbourne, VIC 3001

Office Hours

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