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Real money talk: Elijah

Real money talk: Elijah

Elijah is a 31-year-old personal trainer and photographer who became a paraplegic after a motorbike accident.

09 July 2019 · 6 min read

This post is based on an interview we conducted with Elijah in June 2019.

Real Money Talk is our series where we interview Australians from all walks of life about their personal finances. The views expressed are those of the interviewees, based on their experiences with money, and as such are not necessarily representative of Spaceship's views.

We have changed the name of the interviewee for their privacy.


Name: Elijah

Age: 31

Where do you live: Concord, Sydney

Please tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m a personal trainer and freelance photographer/cinematographer, and I love pho. I used to work full-time but I had a motorbike accident about four years ago that left me in a wheelchair.

Being in a wheelchair is annoyingly expensive. A wheelchair alone costs $20,000 and hygiene stuff sets you back about $1,000 a month. I have a taxi guy to help me get around, but trains and ferries are normally okay too.

I was mad tenacious a few years ago, but I had to slow down. Now it’s like if I wake up in the morning and I can breathe, that’s a win. If I can get out my front door, that’s a win. I’m slowly getting more ambitious again.

What is your current net worth?

Savings: $100,000 cash in my savings account.

Super: Don’t know. I haven’t paid myself in the past four years because of my motorbike accident, but I know I have something in there from when I was working full time.

Debt: Credit card debt is about $80. That’s it. I’m pretty good with my money.

Assets: Camera equipment and a car worth approximately $300,000.

Investments: $500,000 in a hedge fund.

How did you accumulate your net worth?

Excessive saving. Before my accident I was working every personal trainer job I could, and I was saving every penny because I lived with my parents.


Tell us a bit about your career:

I’ve been a personal trainer since 2012. Prior to that, I worked at Optus for five years and was doing personal training after office hours. I’ve always done photography on the side as well, usually on weekends, but now it’s getting a bit bigger. I’ve done more cinematography than personal training stuff in the past four years due to becoming paraplegic.

Do you have income sources outside of your job? If so, how much do you earn from each and how did you develop them?

Ballpark $20,000 a year from personal training and about $30,000 from photography. That estimate is based on last year; I haven’t checked this year yet.

What advice do you have for people who want to earn more money?

The best advice I could give anyone is this: we all have talents that we never get the chance to explore because we’re too worried it might never go anywhere. It will lead us somewhere if we take the time to nurture it. I never thought photography would be a feasible job, but it is, because of all the hours I put into it. I wish I’d known that a lot earlier, because I’d have started ages ago. Also, don’t buy shit you don’t actually need. One pair of shoes is enough.

If you have a partner or get married, make sure they’re on a similar level of drive and ambition. That whole “drop everything and go travel” thing works for white kids, but if you want to care for family or other people, you probably can’t do that.

Also, don’t get married and don’t get sued.


What is your savings rate?

I know how much it takes to run me as a system, and the rest goes into my savings.

Do you have a budget?

My weekly spend would be up to $150. Everything else gets saved. I’m currently in a unique position. Since my accident, I pay very little in terms of household expenses. I live with my parents and I chip in whenever bills come up or they need a hand with some expenses.

How much do you spend per year?

I’m always buying photography equipment. I probably spend a sweet $20,000 in a year on that. On myself, maybe $30,000.

Do you make purchase decisions carefully, or are you loose with your money?

I’m quite careful. I weigh everything up then decide if I’m going to go for it.

How is your work-life balance?

It’s pretty sweet. I enjoy what I do and I work for myself so I choose my own hours and projects. But I’m an entrepreneur per se, so I’m always going back and forth between my computer and the gym. I probably do more hours than a nine-to-five, but it’s hard to quantify all that thinking time. Maybe 10 hours a day, but I love it.

What is your favourite thing to spend money on?

Laksa and pho. Or going to the movies. I only go to Gold Class. Not because I’m fancy, but because I can actually climb into the chairs. Those are my only vices.


How do you invest?

Just that one hedge fund.

How did you choose that one?

I used a company called Balmain Private; they have different investment options. If they can hold my $500,000 for under 12 months and pay me at least a 7% return, I’ll usually go for it. Then, after the time is up, I’ll look for similar terms and reinvest.

What has been your worst investment?

One time I created an app for $30,000 and never ended up doing anything with it. It was an app that was designed to give personal trainers more power over where they worked. I gave up on it when I became disabled. I care more now than I did two years ago though, so I might pick it up again in the future. But I take things one role at a time.

What's been your overall return?

I’d estimate $30,000 pre-tax.

How are you building wealth?

Investing, reinvesting, and saving as much as I can. My work as a cinematographer is expanding and I think that’ll become my primary hustle, overtaking my investments.

What are your main roadblocks? And how are you addressing them?

Disability. And I have to hire people to do my bidding. For example, I can’t get certain places to get specific shots, so I’ve been forced to become more of a director with that stuff. It’s a very frustrating space to be in.

Do you have a target net worth you want?

By age 44, I’d like to be worth at least $5 million. Not because I care about money, just to keep score. You need to give yourself some f*ck off goals, goals that seem incredibly high. If I landed at exactly $2 million, I’d still be killing it. I’d rather aim for $5 million and land at $2 million than aim for $2 million and land at $500,000. At the same time though, I don’t even care.

When did you make your first significant behavioural shift towards wealth building?

When I was 25. I just looked at my parents and I was like: you guys are doing it wrong, and I’d like to pay you back. It’s always been kinda in there, but 25 was when I realised I had to be more proactive. That’s when I took up personal training and photography on top of my full-time job.

If you could start again, what would you do differently?

If I were starting again, I wouldn’t waste time going to uni or TAFE. They don’t teach you about life or money.

Have you made mistakes along the way that others can learn from?

Yes. All ideas are awesome ideas, but if you don’t know how to execute or market them, you will fail. My app is a good idea, but I didn’t know how to market it.

Do you have any worries about retirement? If so, how are you planning to address them?

Nope. Like I said, $5 million. As long as I stay away from women, I should be fine.

How are you learning about building wealth? Is it from family, books, etc.?

I read a lot of books, learning how to become a minimalist and not spend what I don’t need. I was doing my cardio in a carpark and there was a guy there who always drove fancy exotic cars. One day I randomly asked him what I should do with money. He told me to invest so that my money is growing and I can spend my time doing other hustles. Don’t leave it in the bank because they pay low interest rates. Banks care about them being rich, not you.

I also read books. 50 of them to be exact. Maybe 10 of them were about finance. “Think And Grow Rich” was great, and “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” is also a good one.

Do you give to charity? If you do, what per cent of time/money do you give?

I used to, but not since I realised how little of the donation actually winds up getting to the cause.

The information in this article is prepared by Spaceship Capital Limited (ABN 67 621 011 649, AFSL 501605). It is general in nature as it has been prepared without taking account of your objectives, financial situation or needs.

Bryna Howes is the Head of Content & Brand at Spaceship. She's equally obsessive about cinnamon donuts and scouring the web for great reads.

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