2017: Try Budgeting Yearly

budgetingAs the year 2016 draws to a close, I invite you to try something different for the coming year: yearly budgeting.

If you’ve done any kind of budgeting exercise, you’ve probably made lists or spreadsheets of your monthly expenses. Things like rent or mortgage payments, utility bills, and student loan payments.

Why should we budget for a full year? It’s because if you set aside just enough money to cover your monthly bills, you won’t take into account all the unexpected or one-time expenses that are bound to happen. Such expenses do not only include bad stuffs like car repairs and medical bills. One-time expenses include holidays too!

Budgeting yearly makes it easier to save up for those expenses. By working those items into your budget, you can work backwards and save a little each month toward your goal.

If you’ve tried monthly budgeting in the past and found yourself coming up short because of unexpected expenses, try yearly budgeting to give yourself a cash cushion.

3 Obvious Ways to Build Wealth

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You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to build wealth. The wealthy understand that while being smart can certainly help you earn money, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll build wealth with your earnings.

Likewise, being famous doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be able to build wealth. Sure, it can help, but there are countless stories of those who earn a ton of money only to watch it disappear seemingly overnight.

So, what are the secrets to building wealth? And, once you build wealth, how do you keep it? The truth is that the “secrets” to building wealth really aren’t secrets at all.

They are simply common sense behaviors that, when practiced with purpose and over a long period of time, are likely to result in a pool full of cash. Let’s take a look at some of these behaviors.

1. Say “no” to debt.

Saying “no” to debt is truly a behavior at the heart of so many wealthy individuals. Why? It has something to do with interest rates.

Student loans, credit cards, personal loans, car loans, and many other types of debt all have interest rates. Some of these rates are higher than others, but one thing is guaranteed: you will pay a lot more money than necessary if you make minimum payments on a loan, and the interest rates will slowly drain any wealth you do have.

Unfortunately, that’s where many people get stuck. They are so used to debt, they think it’s normal and shrug it off as a way of life. Sure, it might be a way of life for some people, but it doesn’t have to be a way of life for you.

The way to get out of debt is to focus your energy on saying “no” to more debt. Make money fast, you might choose to attack your debt even faster than you might initially think possible.

2. Practice discipline and invest for the long-term.

It can be all too easy to get caught up in the hype of this stock or that stock. The media continually reports this or that “new hot stock.” Don’t fall for the trap. It is always better to diversify your investments and not get carried away by the allure of quick wealth.

The number one behavior that inevitably leads to more wealth is staying disciplined. Emotions are very real and very dangerous, and it’s hard to be objective about your money, especially when people around us are talking about doom and gloom as it relates to the economy. Most of your money is invested for the long-term – do not make short-term decisions about your long-term money.

The best way to get market-like returns is not to meddle with your investment mix. If you do, the probability of achieving your financial goals will most likely go down. Predicting where the stock market is headed and making decisions off the prediction is a fool’s game. It requires a crystal ball – and no one has a crystal ball. Stay disciplined.

3. Stay frugal.

It’s human nature for any increase in income to be immediately swallowed by lifestyle improvements, a phenomenon known as ‘lifestyle creep’. Avoid lifestyle creep and build guaranteed increases into your savings plan by changing the way you think about annual raises. The next time you are presented with a raise, challenge yourself to save half of the increase, and ‘creep’ with the other half. This strategy will allow you to pay yourself first, enjoy the fruits of your labor, and build wealth over time.

It’s better to stay frugal, build wealth, and have a firm financial position rather than squander your money on things that you really don’t need – especially over the long-term.

Cultivate a Healthy Relationship with Money

cultivate moneyCultivating a healthy relationship with money is the foundation of a rich and happy life. Just like any other relationship, for your money to blossom, it needs attention and care. You don’t want to stifle it with worry and fear, but you also don’t want to be careless. You need to get to understand it, treasure it, and not be afraid to let it go. If you strike the right balance, it will always be there for you.

The first step to understanding money is to figure out how much you need to live the way you want. You can spend your whole life pursuing more money, or you can figure out what it takes to live and be happy. Money is a tool to fund your life – when you think about money as a tool, it’s easier to plan.

How much do you need to meet your necessary expenses?

The mortgage, the rent, your other fixed bills, your life & health insurance, your kid’s education? How much is an important number because you if you can’t afford your basic lifestyle, life becomes one big money worry.

The next hard step: Regular saving

This trips many people up. It usually involves delayed gratification, and we don’t like that. It also involves investing, which can seem scary and complicated. But we must save for the things or experiences we want soon and in the future, and we must invest to prevent our money from losing value due to inflation.

Retirement is the most daunting savings need of all because it involves big numbers and many assumptions – assumptions on our longevity, health, returns on investment, inflation rates, etc. For most of us, our CPF is the only source of income we will have in retirement besides our savings. For this reason, saving at least 10% of take-home income each year (or more if you start late) is critical.
After you understand how much money you need to meet your emergency fund, your necessary expenses and your retirement savings, then you can focus on what else you want to create a rich and happy life. A healthy relationship with money means knowing that you can’t have everything. Instead, you figure out what in life brings you the most joy and satisfaction, and you prioritize those things.

You will know you have achieved a healthy relationship with money when you worry less about it and start feeling good about how you are spending and saving it. Get started working on this most important relationship now for a happier future.

Money Advice that Don’t Grow Old

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Many recommendations I’ve made are as applicable today as they will be in future, and they bear repeating. Here are some of the best financial moves for you to consider:

1. Understanding and managing your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs about money is as important as understanding how money works. Our brains are programmed to make poor financial decisions. Exploring your money history and learning to identify your unconscious beliefs about money can change your financial behaviours forever. It is important to gain control of your finances and become comfortable using money as the valuable tool it is.

2. Building an emergency reserve to cover living expenses for three to months if you lose your job or experience a business slump is a necessity. If you are retired, having one to three years of cash available to cover living expenses can help you avoid taking money out of investments when their value has declined.

3. Retirement will happen, sooner than you think. Start early — as in the day after university graduation — and be consistent in investing at least 20 percent of your paycheck.

4. Learn to appreciate the word “budget”. Creating a way to track and manage income and expenses is an essential skill to thrive financially. Numerous free or inexpensive tools, like Mint.com and Expensify, can help.

5. Run from consumer debt. Personally, I use credit cards for almost every purchase for convenience and cash back rewards. However, it’s of vital importance to pay the card off every month, without fail.

6. A house is a home, not an investment. Don’t buy more home than you can afford, and don’t buy without a down payment.

7. No asset goes up forever. Price declines, even crashes, are part and parcel of investing. It’s essential to understand that the value of your portfolio will fluctuate. Be prepared to ride out downturns. Selling in a down market is a big mistake that will cost you dearly.

8. The fundamental strategy for managing market ups and downs is asset class diversification. This doesn’t mean having money in different banks, with different brokers, or with different fund managers. It’s about having a good balance of mutual/exchange-traded funds that invest in SG and International stocks, SG and International government bonds, real estate investment trusts, commodities and junk bonds.

9. There are no free investments. Pay attention to the fees associated with any investment, as well as how the advisor recommending any investment is compensated.

10. Pay yourself first. The most successful savers and investors I know simply take all their fixed expenses, taxes, and retirement plan contributions off their income earned, then spend the rest. This means learning to live on 30% to 50% of how much you earn. Certainly, it isn’t easy, but one of the most valuable money habits to cultivate is to save something for the future, instead of spending everything that comes in.

You may have likely heard of these pieces of advice before. There’s a reason for that: it works, and never goes out of style.

5 Smart Money Moves for Newlyweds

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Wedding season is officially under way, and odds are, couples en route to the altar have been fiscally focused almost entirely on the Big Day for quite some time.

But once you’ve said your I dos, financially (not romantically), the honeymoon’s over. It’s time to shift some of that energy from planning your marriage to successfully living as a legally wed duo, and that includes figuring out how you’ll handle your money. After all, marriage is an economic partnership too, and disagreements over money are the top source of conflict among couples.

To increase your odds of attaining (and sustaining) marital bliss, implement these five pieces of financial wisdom.

1. Draft Your Marital Money Rules.

Financial goals and household budgets are very important, but equally so are your marital money rules. Think of this as a contract between you and your spouse regarding how you will work together financially. Determine how you’ll handle the bill-paying and whether or not you’ll keep separate checking and savings accounts. Also, establish guidelines for how much money you can spend without having to “preauthorize,” or check in, with your significant other.

2. Live on One Salary, Bank the Other.

Perhaps you’re both working now, but that may not always be the case. If you decide to have children, go back to school, or start your own business someday, that might involve one of you scaling back or getting out of the workforce altogether. Set yourselves up for those possibilities by living on one salary and saving the other. You’ll have more options if you have enough savings to replace one of your salaries for an extended period without having to dramatically alter your lifestyle.

3. Get Rid of Debts.

Starting a marriage with no debt is ideal, but typically unrealistic. Many couples begin marriages with student loans or credit card liabilities. Devise a plan for reducing your debts. Start by transferring balances from high interest credit cards to one with a lower rate. If you’re not able to transfer your balance, pay off either the card with the highest balance or the highest interest rate first, while paying the minimum on all other cards. Cut expenses to pay down your balances as quickly as possible.

4. Review Your Retirement Plan.

A financial need that’s decades away might seem really abstract right now, but no one else will provide for your retirement except you. And the long-term impact of opening a retirement account now is huge, with compound interest accumulating over decades until you retire. Sock away as much as you can in your retirement plan at work. If you can eke out even more money from your budget, contribute to individual retirement accounts like the Supplementary Retirement Scheme (SRS) provided by the CPF Board.

5. Review Your Insurance.

As newlyweds, you need protection against catastrophic medical expenses and a long-term disability. Your employer likely offers disability insurance coverage up to a certain amount as part of a group plan. But make sure it’s enough to fund your and your spouse’s needs in the event you can’t work for a while. Increment of life insurance can generally be delayed until you have children, at which time you might supplement your coverage with either a term or whole life policy.

Put Marital (and Financial) Happiness at the Top of Your “Honey-Do” List

Just like your romantic partnership, your financial partnership is something you craft together as a couple. Take it seriously, and establish your guidelines early, even when it involves topics you might prefer to dodge. By doing so, you’ll limit future arguments, and your marriage will be better off for it.