My life lesson: invest what you can

The frugal habits of her grandfather showed Emma Isaacs just how little steps add up. By Sylvia Pennington.

‘It’s not how much you make but what you do with it that counts’: sage advice from her grandfather – whose careful husbandry of his own modest earnings led to financial security – taught Emma Isaacs (pictured) the value of a slow-and-steady approach to building wealth.

“My grandfather spent his working life as a boat builder and was very frugal with his spending and very committed to saving and investing,” says Isaacs, the chief executive officer of business networking group, Business Chicks.

“Each month he would walk in to the Martin Place branch of his bank and hand over his mortgage payment in cash. He paid off that mortgage diligently and at the same time built an impressive share portfolio, of mostly blue-chip shares.”

Start young and reap rewards

It was a lesson in prudence and planning not lost on his granddaughter, who was determined to start following his example as soon as she swapped school for the world of work.

“My grandfather, plus all the books I read and seminars I attended, inspired me to think it might be possible for me to learn about investing and to start putting what I’d learnt into practice from a young age,” Isaacs says.

Dividends were used to boost the size of his nest egg.

“He would reinvest them, always building and never liquidating the stock,” Isaacs says. “As a result, he built himself a sizeable investment portfolio over time. He received a very modest salary but never let this deter him from his long-term investment goals.”

“I’m so glad he taught me this, as it led me to start my first business – a recruitment agency – when I was 18 and buy my first investment property when I was 19.”

Now in her mid-30s, she’s seen the long-term benefits of beginning early and plugging away.

“Having money invested across diverse asset classes from an early age has meant that I’ve always been a good, solid customer in my bank’s eyes,” Isaacs says. “Investing steadily and from a young age has always stood me in good stead whenever I’ve needed to access cash or other financial products for my business – banks love it when they can see a solid personal finance base.”

This solid base has been used to flex her entrepreneurial muscles. Eight years after starting her recruitment agency she took over the fledgling women’s networking group Business Chicks.

It now has 44,000 members around the country, produces quarterly magazine Latte and hosts around 130 events annually. Isaacs has also used her profile and prodigious energy to raise more than $12 million for charity.

Early in 2016 she headed to Los Angeles, along with her husband and four young children, to oversee Business Chicks’ international expansion.

Isaacs says her grandfather’s old-school advice can be followed by anyone who’s prepared to take it along with a decent dollop of discipline.

“Little steps taken regularly add up to leaps and bounds in the long term. Just start small and, most importantly, just start!”

This is a series from ANZ Women asking leading Australians to share important financial advice that has changed their life.