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Sharks - just one problem in this marathon swimming challenge

01 June 2021

Lauren Tischendorf has become the first woman to swim around Lord Howe Island, Australia, in a solo, single session. That’s 35 kilometres of open water.

A kindergarten and special education teacher, Lauren’s career has been varied. She studied accounting and economics and has held a variety of roles outside the education sector in policy and research, analysis, and reporting. Originally from South Africa, Lauren has also worked in Papua New Guinea.

Lauren T

Sharks, currents, swimming in one spot against the current with sharks circling, 25 knot winds and a 2.5metre swell. That’s how I would sum up the actual swim.

But why was I there in the first place?

I’d been spurred on by a flippant comment made to me, early in the pandemic, about my inability to swim with some pals. The comment came from a gentleman who didn’t know me very well. However, the purpose behind my marathon swimming attempt was not only to challenge myself physically but to highlight the strength of women and help to shift the conversation on gender. To get the marathon more recognition, I partnered with Pledge for the Planet – people can actively pledge to a challenge set up by someone or just pledge to change their day-to-day habits to make a positive impact on the environment.

I’m also making a film about the marathon swimming experience and talking to groups about resilience, goal setting, passion and leadership.

Ruby: When financially planning the swim what costs came as a surprise?

LT: Having travelled and done some marathon swimming before, I knew about the costs involved in such an expedition. However, in this instance, the financial costs were substantial. Firstly, the swim fell in the traditional holiday ‘high season’ because that was the only time I could do the swim. Secondly, Lord Howe Island’s remoteness makes it costly.

I expected this, but it was still a bit of a surprise. The swim itself included the flights and accommodation for the crew. I didn’t feel comfortable with team members having to pay for flights and accommodation.

Probably not the most surprising cost, but one I hadn’t been aware of until my mum did some research when we were doing our financial planning, was the high cost of food and beverages on the island. It’s all brought to the island by boat or plane. I also had to take leave without pay, which was a drain on the budget.

Ruby: Did you have a financial plan for managing the money, or did it develop as you went along?

LT: I had a budget in mind for the trip and was working towards that. I was prepared to do the trip at all costs - physically - and so I needed to match this financially. I used my own equipment and resources as well as roping in my friends and family to crew for me. Small things like Ubers to and from the airport, booking costs – it all added up.

I sought grants and sponsorships. However, due to the financial state of the country at the time, finding support was difficult. In the end, I took out a small personal loan to cover the costs.

I’ve started a GoFund me page for making the film which is the next phase of the project.

Unfortunately, I have not had the financial literacy and support previously to develop strong savings. Career changes and taking risks on those changes, along with living in Sydney as a teacher, have also affected my personal savings.

Ruby: What does your financial planning look like before, during, and after the swim?

LT: Being on a limited salary and living in Sydney, I’ve always been conscious of my spending and saving. I prioritise essential costs like rent, electricity, phone, wi-fi and car running costs. My social spending included my swim pool entry and squad fees and a coffee once a week with the crew. I love fresh flowers and getting small gifts for friends and family to show I care, however, since COVID and losing a job, I have had to stop that. I found keeping to a basic diet and not going out for meals helps keep my spending down, though I do love a good cheese and wine and get very generous buying rounds of drinks. I used to have a great share portfolio but have dipped into that to support myself at various times. I can’t wait to grow my funds again more purposefully.

Ruby: Have your personal money habits changed following the swim? How so?

LT: If anything, I am trying not to spend unless I absolutely need to. I have the film to make which needs funds.

Eggs on toast and soups have been my staple for a long time. Swim training and seeing friends has become almost nil. I’m confident, once the film is made, I can get back to enjoying time with friends, start going out a bit and grow back my share portfolio.

Ruby: How have your money habits changed in the past 10 years?

LT: My habits change as my income flow changes. As much as my parents are accountants and I studied accounting and economics, having a saving system has not been clear to me until more recently. In the past, I seemed to have money for the things I wanted but, as I’ve aged, my priorities have changed. I want different things, to have new adventures, and the availability of the funds needed to meet these changing priorities has not been there. It’s made me more conscious of financial planning: my spending and saving habits, as well as forecasting for the year ahead.

Ruby: Are there any systems in place to help you manage your money, personally?

LT: The systems I use to manage my money include tracking, forecasting, using different accounts for different purposes. What I do know is that without a stable income the systems won’t work.

Ruby: On a personal and business level, what do you wish you’d known earlier?

LT: As a teacher, but also a woman, I wish I’d had proper financial literacy at school. It is so important and provides such personal control as well as self-confidence.

Lauren T Swimming

All photography Bradley Farley