Money Advice that Don’t Grow Old

Personal finances2

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.

Are You Ready to Invest?

In the midst of the recent anxiety and unpredictability of the global financial markets, many investors have been left wondering if this is still a good time to look for investment opportunities. As with everything in life, there are two sides to the same story. On the one hand, the economic turmoil could be taken as a clear sign to rush out and away from the market. On the other hand, an economic turmoil can be a signal for long-term investors to slowly work their way into the market, following the belief that crises are often opportunities in disguise. What most people forget, however, is to ask whether they are even in a position to invest. The basic questions: “Are you financially ready to invest?”, “How do you determine if you are financially ready to invest?” and “What have you done so far to gauge your financial readiness?” are furthest from their minds.

How To Assess If You Are Financially Ready

Determining your financial readiness is not simply estimating how much you have in your bank account. There are 3 barometers of financial health that you will have to check yourself against: Personal Income and Expenses Statement, Personal Net Worth Statement and Financial Ratios. Only when you systematically review your finances will you be aware of your readiness to invest in the future. Let us go through the 3 barometers so that you will be more aware of what they are and how they can give you an idea of where you are financially.

Cashflow

Establish Your Current Financial Standing

Firstly, you should be able to keep a good track of the money entering and leaving your wallet. You can achieve this through a personal income and expenses statement, a tabulation of your monthly income and expenses. Someone who is financially sound will have greater money inflow than outflow.

The next step in determining your financial readiness is to identify your assets and liabilities and compile them in a Personal Net Worth Statement. This statement shows you whether you are a positive net worth individual with many assets or whether you are a negative net worth individual, one who is hung up with the many liabilities of life.

Finally, to really determine if you are financially ready, you must understand important financial ratios that will assist you in seeing the bigger picture of your financial health. Here are 3 financial ratios you need to be aware of:

1. Basic Liquidity Ratio = Cash or Cash Equivalents (Liquid Assets) / Monthly Expenses

This ratio provides an indication on the number of months a person could continue to meet his/her expenses from existing cash or cash equivalent assets after a total loss of income. We should have liquid assets equal to 3 to 6 months expenses in an emergency fund.

2. Savings Ratio = Savings / Gross Income

This ratio provides an indication of what percentage of gross income an individual is setting aside for future consumption. A ratio of 10% or more is healthy.

3. Investment Assets to Net Worth Ratio = Total Invested Assets / Net Worth

This ratio provides an indication of the value of investment assets as against net worth. This would show how well an individual is advancing towards wealth accumulation goals. A person should have a ratio of at least 50% and it should get higher as retirement approaches.

Are Your Debts Good or Bad?

Debt is like a double-edged sword. It can help you, but it can harm you too. Making good use of debt can create wealth for you, but mishandle it and you can possibly be put into bankruptcy.

Therefore, we should learn how to use debt wisely to let our money grow. Debts can be classified as bad debts and good debts. Here’s a table showing annual interest rates of various types of loans currently:

CURRENT INTEREST RATES FOR VARIOUS LOANS
Type of Loan Interest Rate
Mortgage 1.8% – 3.75%
Education 4.6%
Car 5%
Renovation 5% – 7%
Personal Unsecured 14%
SME Unsecured 5% – 10%
Credit Card 24%

Bad Debt

bad debt

What types of debt should be considered bad? Any expense-related debts can be classified as bad. Examples include taking a loan for travel and taking up a hire purchase with interest for your home furniture.

This is because the value of these purchased goods usually drop after you purchase them. For example, after getting a new TV at $3,000 hire purchase, the value of it drops by $500 in the following month.

Another popular form of debt comes from something almost all of us use – credit cards. If used smartly, credit cards can help us enjoy discounts and savings when we make purchases from relevant merchants. On top of that, it allows us to carry less cash in our wallets and makes payment convenient. However, if you were to delay your credit card debt repayments, the interest payment can be as high as 24%. Let’s say a person has just charged $10,000 to his/her credit card today and defaults on his/her repayments for the next 3 years. Based on the rule of 72, the total debt would have grown twice the size 3 years later. Yes, that’s a whopping $20,000!

Therefore, please think twice before you use your credit cards or when taking up bad debts. You may land yourself in huge financial trouble if you fail to make repayments on time.

Good Debt

mortgage

A loan that helps you to acquire an asset which can potentially earn a higher rate of return than the loan interest rate can be classified as a good debt.

Mortgage and business loans are examples of good debt. In fact, the interest rate on mortgage is the lowest among different types of loans which we can get. Although a HDB Housing Loan is at 2.6% per annum currently, you can potentially earn a higher yield if your house is timely sold in the future. At the same time, CPF Board credits a return of 2.5% per annum into our CPF Ordinary Account (CPFOA). This means that your HDB Housing Loan interest is offset to 0.1% annually.

Many successful entrepreneurs have also benefited from the use of good debt. Through the use of business loans, small enterprises are able to expand their businesses. Large companies are able to grow even bigger.

Another example of good debt is your education loan. The knowledge gained through your education allows you to acquire a good job and earn living. It is definitely a worthwhile investment.

In summary, leveraging on good debts to grow your wealth is one of the important principles to growing rich.

Be careful not to over-borrow

Here’s a warning – do not over-borrow, as you may get yourself into trouble. How do we ensure then, that we do not over-borrow?

Your monthly debt repayments should not add up to more than 35% of your monthly salary. If your monthly salary is $4,000, then your monthly debt commitment should not exceed $1,400.

Avoid bad debts and use good debts smartly – this is a sure way to create great wealth for yourself.

Manage Your Wealth Like a Football Team

Just like managing a football team, managing your wealth properly requires a good team of players in 3 departments – defence, midfield and forwards.

In a game of football, let’s imagine if we have a team with a great goalkeeper and defenders but without strong forwards, will we be able to win? Well, the best possible result may perhaps be just a draw. In reality, when it comes to managing wealth, many people have made the mistake of being too conservative.

footballA dangerous thought which they have is keeping all of their savings in their bank accounts, assuming it is the most reliable way to make their money grow. However, they have forgotten the fact that bank interest rates can never keep up with the pace of inflation. Over a long period, the savings of these people will diminish in terms of purchasing power.

On another hand, can a football team do without a dependable goalkeeper and defence? The answer is certainly no. When facing the fierce attacks of an opponent, a team with a weak defence will be in shambles and suffer terribly. Similarly, without proper insurance cover to protect our wealth, if any disaster strikes, a rich man can very quickly become a poor man. Therefore, just like managing a football team, managing your wealth properly requires a good team of players in 3 departments – defence, midfield and forwards. With this analogy, let’s look at these 3 departments in wealth management.

1. Defence: Emergency Fund & Insurance

As the saying “Saving for a rainy day” goes, we should aim to keep an emergency fund of 3 to 6 times of our monthly expenses. This sum of cash will come in handy when events like a salary cut or retrenchment happens. For this emergency fund, we can save our money in bank savings accounts, fixed deposits or money market funds.

At the same time, we should also purchase insurance. For instance, hospitalisation insurance covers your medical bills in case of an accident or critical illness. Surgical fees can amount to over tens of thousands of dollars, and treatment for long-term illnesses such as kidney dialysis can cost more than $20,000 annually. With adequate protection, it gives you a peace of mind that unforeseen circumstances are prepared for. To understand your insurance needs, you can refer to an earlier post here.

2. Midfield: Endowment and Moderate Risk Investments for the Mid-Term

A strong midfielder has to be able to support the forwards and help out in defence. You can think of putting your money in investment instruments with moderate risks, such as savings endowment policies and balanced funds which invests in a mix of fixed-income (bonds) and equity, some with a larger portion in bonds. Alternatively, you can set aside a pre-determined amount to invest every month in global funds. This strategy of dollar cost averaging can help your money grow in the mid-term.

3. Forwards: High Yield Investments

With a solid defence and reliable midfield, if you have a surplus of cash and wish to grow it, you can put your money in investments with high returns and high risks. Such investments include real estate, stocks, currencies or sector funds. For those of you who actively keeps an eye on the stock market, you should have a super-sub forward – an opportunity fund. Every crisis comes with an opportunity. Whenever there is a global stock market recession, we are presented with an opportunity to buy stocks at very low prices, like it were the Great Singapore Sale. If you had bought DBS shares in early 2009 when the price was $7 per share, you can sell them off at $16 per share now and earn a huge profit.

Here’s to your financial success by managing your money just like a football team, or for the matter, any other team sports which requires a defence, midfield and forwards.