Why We Shouldn’t be Bothered with Fear-Mongers

bad-economic-headlinesThere is much fearmongering in the different media which we are exposed to everyday. Take a look at the money section of any website, newspaper or magazine and you will find stories warning you about the Chinese economy, the Federal Reserve’s interest rate policies, the impact of the U.S. presidential election, global oil markets and market volatility.

But none of these stories—while interesting to read and think about—is worthy of spending too much of your brainpower.

Why? Because these big global factors are beyond your control and will be resolved without the slightest help from you.

You cannot control how the S&P 500 will perform or whether the European region will restart pumping profits. History has shown us that there are times when the U.S. markets outperform foreign markets and when the opposite is true. This is also true when it comes to growth stocks, value stocks, small and large companies. There is no way to successfully or consistently predict what will happen next.

So why do we bother?

Psychologists call it the “illusion of control“. Our intellectual minds tell us we can figure it out, even when—trust me—we can’t!

Putting your precious time into what you CAN control is really the only sensible way to go.

Here are six actions where focusing your energies in will reap you rewards:

  1. Develop rational goals built on your values. Let’s face it, without a real plan, you have decided to drift and hope for the best.
  1. Consider possible life transitions and how they might impact your actions. Transitions rarely give notice, so considering the impact of possibilities allows you to put solutions in place.
  1. Build agreement with other stakeholders (your spouse, a partner) on strategies to reach your goals. With all parties working toward the same goals, you’re more likely to be working for each other and get things accomplished.
  1. Invest time and resources to work with professionals who can help move your goals forward. Whether it’s creating a retirement plan or a proper risk management plan, you’ll benefit from working with experienced experts.
  1. Know your financial numbers and assign priorities for savings, accumulation and spending. Consider a rating system from 1 to 5, where you assign a point system to where your paycheck and resources go.
  1. Understand more about the “whys” of your life. Our beliefs don’t just arrive in our thinking like a magician’s trick. On the contrary, your money beliefs—your mindset—come from your money history over the course of your life. And it’s that mindset that determines what you consider the norm. Taking the time to understand whether your beliefs support your values is always time well spent.

These actions are very specific to you—you make the choices, decisions and actions that will support the outcomes you desire.

Devoting time to the economic issues of China or whether equity markets will rise or fall is beyond your ability to control and will only divert your attention from what really impacts your life.

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.

A Quick Guide To Retirement Planning

Many people work their entire lives with one goal in mind – retirement. It’s one of the most important life events that is experienced by most people.
From a personal and financial perspective, achieving an easy, well-funded retirement is a lifelong process that requires early planning and commitment to a long-term goal. Once you reach retirement age, you can then enjoy the benefits of a comfortable retirement in which you have more than enough money to cover your living costs.

Managing Your Retirement

When it comes to retirement planning, the earlier you can start in your career, the better off you will be.

The problem, however, is that most young people are not thinking about retirement. After all, when you are in your 20s or 30s, being 65 or older can seem like forever.

Even for older people, it can be daunting. While everybody would like to retire in comfort and financial security, the amount of time and complexity of creating a successful retirement plan can make the whole process somewhat intimidating.

As a matter of fact, retirement planning often can be done very easily. All it takes is a little homework, an obtainable savings and investment plan, and the long-term commitment to preparing for your retirement years.

How Much Do You Need for Retirement?

After you stop working, your expenses don’t stop. In fact, given the fact that you probably will be dealing with more health issues, they are likely to be higher.

So how much money do you actually need to fully fund a comfortable retirement? While an exact answer is impossible to give, there are some factors that should be considered:

Medical Expenses – If and when you become ill, you are going to want the top-quality medical services that are available. Most people don’t want to have to depend on charity or welfare. In Singapore, everyone is entitled to MediShield Life benefits. But this publicly funded program only covers minimal expenses. And there often is a gap between what the government will pay for and what you actually need.

Living Expenses – You are still going to have to live indoors, wear clothes, eat food, and have heat and fresh air to breathe when you are retired. All of these things cost money. Even if your mortgage is paid off by the time you retire, you are still going to have to pay property taxes, homeowners insurance, and maintenance costs.

Other Expenses – A comfortable retirement includes such non-essential expenses as entertainment, transportation costs, and other expenses that don’t fall into the other categories.

Add these all up, add the rate of inflation between now and your retirement date, and you have a general idea of how much money you are going to need for your retirement. Now all you have to is multiply that number by how long you expect to live!

Start Planning Now

Retirement planning is a process that takes decades of commitment in order to achieve the end result: The comfortable retirement you deserve. The concept of saving and investing money in a retirement fund may seem daunting, but with a few basic calculations and commitment to a realistic plan, you can achieve it.

How Can You Cope With Long Term Care?

Screenshot (259)I would like to share with you the story of two friends of mine, who are in distress because their parents require long term care.

George and Joanne are a married couple in their late 40s. George just put his parents in a nursing home, which costs $2,000 per person every month. At the same time, Joanne’s mum is living with them while receiving in-home medical and nursing care. Such home care services costs $1,100 every month.

All 3 parents are either suffering from dementia or stroke, which hampers daily activities like eating and bathing. In particular, George’s mum has lost control of her bladder due to dementia.

They feel stressed and emotionally drained. Both sets of parents have lost their savings and independence, because they lack long term care insurance.

After struggling with long term care for their parents, George and Joanne want to protect their kids from the financial and emotional burden of having to care for them in their old days. They realised they need a long term care insurance policy.

As George was sharing with me, he felt that if his and Joanne’s parents had a long term care policy, instead of creating this emotional and financial burden for the family, the policy would have paid for the care and help them maintain their independence.

Lesson learnt:
The greatest risk we will face in retirement is requiring long term care. Without long term care insurance, we are playing the wrong odds. What is really worrying George and Joanne is this fast approaching dark cloud of a $100,000 per person risk, for an average 5 years stay. How are they going to pay this amount when they still have to save for their retirement?

If you are 40 years old or older, long term care insurance builds a shield around your nest egg, protecting you and your family from that risk so you can enjoy spending quality time with each other in retirement. Your kids will be grateful they don’t have to worry about changing your diapers or giving you that uncomfortable sponge-bath, because you planned ahead.

If you have parents age 40 or above, long term care insurance will pay for the care of your parents at old age and help them maintain their independence. Most importantly, you don’t have to pay for long term care expenses such as Nursing Home fees and hiring a caregiver on your own.

4 Reasons Why People Underestimate Their Retirement Savings Need

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DBS survey of 800 people in 2014 showed that:

  • 73 per cent of the people polled plan to retire between 55 and 65, with an average savings of $571,715.
  • At the same time, more than 85 per cent of those polled expect to live on a retirement income of $3,500 per month for the next 15 to 20 years and more.
  • However, there is a big gap between both sets of numbers as the average retirement savings amount would only last 13 years and not 15 to 20 years.

These statistics are worrying but fret not! The rest of this article explains the 4 reasons people underestimate how much retirement savings they need, which will give you greater clarity in planning for your future.

1. Length of retirement

Two things determine our length of retirement – life expectancy and retirement age. According to Department of Statistics Singapore, our life expectancy is 83 years. This means that if you desire to retire by age 60, your savings will need to last for 23 years. This is a huge 10 years difference with DBS’s survey findings!

However, when you actually retire might vary as many people choose to work part-time even after they stop full employment. For instance, many retirees become private tutors or piano teachers, or work part-time in their professions as consultants.

2. Not adjusting for inflation

It is important to note that the final sum you will actually need depends on when you will retire and the actual figure you will need to save because of inflation. Let’s say you desire to retire 30 years from now and will need to spend $3,500 monthly in today’s dollars, assuming an average inflation rate of 3%, your monthly expenses will grow to $8,500 in 30 years’ time.

On the other hand, if you’re planning to retire tomorrow, you won’t need that much as expenses today are definitely much less than they’ll be in a few decades’ time.

3. Overestimating investment returns

Some people belong to the group of more aggressive investors. Being human, they may tend to have optimism bias in terms of investing. Since your stocks have been performing well on the market over the past few years, you start to expect to enjoy a steady 5% return per year for the rest of your life. And everyone just assumes that property values will accrue over time, never mind that there’s a downtrend in the property market now.

When estimating your investment returns, it is best to project modest gains or you would risk getting a rude shock when you investments do not perform as well as expected and you have to delay your retirement plans.

4. Not accounting realistically for discretionary expenses

We may be able to survive on a few hundred dollars a month by eating bread and drinking water every day. But I’m sure nobody would think of living life like that when calculating how much we need to retire. Other than healthcare expenses and insurances, you might also want to spend on things like travel, stuff for your kids or grandchildren, your hobbies or simply the finer things in life. As much as you want to retire as early as possible, you have to be realistic about your spending.