The Pencil

How A Box Of Graylead Pencils Started My Career

I often get asked why I am so passionate about financial planning and how I got started in this industry. When asked I simply point to the graylead pencil that is crudely sticky-taped to the top of my computer monitor, which generally leads to some very puzzled looks and questions about my sanity.

The reason I have a graylead pencil sticky-taped to my computer monitor is that it serves as a reminder of an encounter I had with my dad when I was 16. My dad gave me an errand to buy a single graylead pencil from the local news agency. I took the $10 note he gave me into the news agency and asked whether they sold graylead pencils. The newsagent very politely said they didn’t sell individual graylead pencils, but they did sell them as a 10-pack box for $8. I figured that would do (because my dad always told me to deliver well and beyond any task assigned to me) so I bought the box for $8 believing that would make him happy.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t recall times in my childhood when I deserved to be in trouble. I do, however, remember the times when I was in trouble, but honestly didn’t deserve to be! When I showed my dad the box of pencils and gave him the $2 change, rather than being happy about me delivering “well and beyond the call of duty”, he flipped out! Then he gave me this ultra-long lecture (my dad missed his true calling as a legal professor) about how I didn’t appreciate money and how I was wasting it. I was very confused by this encounter and as to why my father had reacted that way.

It wasn’t until a few years later that I understood why my dad had responded as he had. At the time my dad was between jobs teaching and had a farm which was “asset rich and income poor”. Growing up on a farm has some advantages (plenty of space for backyard cricket) however looking back it has made me realise how much I missed out on. My mum and dad were paying private school fees for my younger brother and me on a single teacher’s wage and any income drawn from the farm was considered a bonus. In the real world $8 is a drop in the ocean, but for my parents (who had to borrow money from my grandparents to avoid bankruptcy) it was a significant amount of money and reflected how stressed they were about their financial situation.

My First Experience With A Financial Planner

Fast forward a couple of years to when I was 19 and on my “gap year”. I had been accepted into a Commerce degree, but I had to choose two majors out of the 25 offered by Deakin University, so I figured I would take time off study to “find myself” and figure out what I wanted to do in life.

During this time a local financial planning firm was running a free seminar on investing in the share market . So, I did what any cool social teenager would do and went along to this share market seminar. While there, I learnt about how the share market had been growing 20 percent each year for the last five years, and how, once invested you would get paid a regular dividend which you could then reinvest to buy more shares. At this stage, I was hooked, and I met up with one of the financial planners to discuss how I could invest my shares.

My financial planner, Jessica, took one look at the $7,000 savings I had, regarded me very kindly, and said that investing in the share market would not be a good idea for me as my timeframe (and balance) was too short. She suggested it would be much better for me to use my savings to pay off my university fees upfront, where I could get a 20% discount on the university fees (a savings of approximately $5,000) and not enter the workforce with a HELP debt.* I was quite disappointed that my share investing days had ended before they’d begun, but I took her advice on board.

That was in May 2008. Less than four months later on 15, September 2008, Lehman Brothers collapsed, triggering the global financial crisis where share markets collapsed by over 40 percent. Paying my HELP debt upfront and NOT investing in the share market at that time (I now invest heavily in shares through managed funds and superannuation) was the best financial advice I have ever received.

I Found Myself

After being exposed to the world of financial planning, I realised that I wanted to do what Jess did. I wanted to help people with their finances. It seemed that financial planning would be the only career path that could combine my two passions of crunching numbers and helping people. So, my gap year was successful – I “found myself” and selected financial planning as one of my Commerce majors. Ten years later I am still here!

Since that time, I have not only completed my degree, but I have also become a Certified Financial Planner. I have spent over seven years working in the financial planning industry in a variety of roles, including advising clients at a big-4 bank, paraplanning at an industry super fund and even coordinating a budgeting course at my local church. Now, I am at the beginning of my biggest challenge yet, starting my own business and providing high qualify financial advice from the comfort of people’s home online.

Sure, like every role it has its good days and bad days. But when those bad days come, I look to the graylead pencil that is crudely stuck to the top of my computer monitor, and it reminds me why I love doing what I do. I have the great privilege to help everyday people such as yourself master their money to ensure they can live the lifestyle they want to live.

I hope you are able to find the resources on, so you don’t have to worry about spending $8 on a box of pencils!

  • For the record, the current discount for paying your university fees upfront reduced from 20% to 5% in 2012, so I doubt Jessica would recommend the same strategy if I saw her today…

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Disclaimer: This information is general information only. You should consider the appropriateness of this information with regards to your objectives, financial situation and needs. Past performance does not guarantee future returns.



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