A friend of mine has asked me for some advice on personal finance, not because I know much about it, but more because I like to read, and she thought that I’d be able to summarise some tips and tricks I picked up. Lucky for her, she was right ( I hope). The notes below are borrowed from Martin Lewis, Ramit Sethi, George Classon, Robert Kiyosaki and Tony Robbins.
What habits do I need to work on?
Awareness of expenses (mindful expenditure) : This is the most important first step of understanding your own financial situation. To improve, control or work on something, you need to know what the reference point is i.e. to what can you measure if your actions are successful or not.
Action: Make a list of all your financial commitments – monthly bills, donations and charitable contributions, regular expenses (transport, food, clothes). Don’t forget to take into account less frequent payments (e.g. annual insurance payments, vehicle servicing and licensing) and a rainy day cash reserve.
From the list above, with your know salary : How much money you can “do without” each month? Whether this is 5%, 10% or even 50%, this is the first choice you need to make.
Always pay yourself first : After you’ve made the decision above, you need to ensure that you stick to paying in this amount each period (even when times are bad). This reinforces the action. Plus, set it up to be an automated system (such as a standing order), which psychologically makes you feel the pain of loss a lot less, and our brain is more sensitive to loss than gain!
How do I manage expenditure?
Cutting Down Expenses: An effective way to reduce expenses is shopping around for a new deal, if possible. Armed with you list of expenses (from above), systematically go through the list from highest to lowest expense and check either (a) your current provider can offer the same service for a lower price – if there is a change, negotiate; (b) can you switch provider to get a better deal? Try to perform this check every 12 months.
Use of Multiple Purses: Another effective cash flow management tool is the use of multiple “purses”. This can be in the form of actual purses, envelopes or virtual , e.g. bank accounts. The idea is that if you allocate a group of expenses to a “purse” , then once that “purse” is empty, you can no longer use money on that group of expenses. e.g. if you set aside £100 for groceries and food, you can cap the limit you spend on food, but still retain the freedom to cater for your fancies/cravings on a given day. Some people prefer to not be so specific about the purses, and as such will have a “general” purse, which allows you to spend on whatever you decide on the time, however, the risk of this is that tracking expenditure requires more effort. The virtual method, in which you can open multiple accounts with a chosen bank, but limit access to them all (e.g. online only/branch only accounts).
Another interesting way of allocating funds to e.g. curb a clothing habit: consider how much you’d spend on something like a shirt, if it was to be last you one year only. that can become the measuring stick for all other clothing items. If you think a piece of clothing would last you longer, e.g 5 years, then multiply the number of years and the baseline cost to find the maximum you should pay.
e.g. if I spend £30 on a shirt (as described above), and I wanted to buy a coat that would last me 5 years, the maximum I should pay is £30 x5 = £150.
Create a wish-list: Often people say stuff like “I won’t buy nice stuff until I own my own place”. Personally, I disagree with this philosophy. Anoter friend of mine says “buy cheap, buy twice” – this I agree with. “Stuff” can be expensive, especially home ware, such as furnishings and kitchenware, but seeing as you can’t have it all (at least initially and not at the same time), I do not think its worth delaying having useful “stuff” in your life (i.e. inconveniencing your life) if you’re in a position that allows you to invest in something you actually use. This is subjective, and some people use the same argument to justify unnecessary expenditure, so this is a judgement call. In reality, what difference does it make if you hold off for that vacuum cleaner until you buy a place, for example. If you need a vacuum cleaner now and can afford it you should buy it, because the habit you’re reinforcing in this manner is to live without one. Nothing magically changes when you move from rented accommodation to a place you own, but enough of the side-bar…
Making a wish list is handy as it allows you to objectively prioritise your expenditure. Also, having the list available to you, makes you assess the need of each of the entries. But ultimately, you end up purchasing what you need at the quality you want and can afford.
What do I need to know about goal setting?
Continuing from the above point of making a wish list and prioritising purchases, the same should be done for large financial commitments – purchase of a new car, house, holiday or wedding..for example! Ideally, one of the purses, mentioned above should be for short term savings goals (1- 10 yrs), with another for long term savings goals (10yr+).
Short Term Goals
Money towards shorter term goals, such as planning a wedding, buying a new car or house need to be separated from longer term goals of financial freedom. It is essential to remember that whatever you can afford, will offset the cost of the goal, which reduces the potential debt you get into.
Divert some cash to a short term goal savings “purse” to minimise the impact of a large expense in the near future. But remember, this is only for the goals you set, not to be dipped in and out of!!
Long Term Goals
“Building of an estate starts by diverting a single piece of silver from income to investment” – George Classon in The Richest Man in Babylon.
Long term goals are designed to let your money grow and as such either (a) provide you a return in the future, through interest gains and appreciation or (b) provide a lump sum that can be drawn down in in the event of loss of a source of income in the far future.
The most effective way of capitalising on the long term growth of capital is to make sure that a regular amount is saved and not drawn from. Effective tools for saving long term are usually Stocks and Shares ISAs, where the money can be invested in something like a tracker fund. This means that the Funds are managed electronically (instead of by a person) and try to mimic the performance of a stock market index. Most providers now allow saving from £30 a month provided it is done by direct debit. In addition, the gains are exempt from income tax.
What about the rainy day fund?
This I would recommend – another purse to ensure that in an unforeseen event, you are not wiped out of cash! Of course, once the rainy day fund has built up to reasonable quantity, you can stop monthly contributions to this and redivert them to other purses, such as short and long term savings. Men’s Health suggests having approximately 2-3 months of bills+ expenses money as a rainy day fund, but its a personal decision. You need to be realistic with the time it takes to build up this emergency cash reserve!
What if I cannot save still?
So, you’ve decided that everything you spend money on is important to you, so the scope for saving from your current income is limited. You can always create another source of income. This is easier said than done, few people who embark on this venture actually stick to it and accomplish it. This is something that I am working on and is one of my upcoming year ambitions/resolutions. The idea is that this reduces dependency on your “main” job and could potentially liberate you from the so called rat race, when you find a purpose worth striving for.
One of my friends says that within her was instilled the values of treating your household like a business – understanding your inflows and outflows of cash. These practices then can be translated to commercial opportunities. She used to practice this by keeping track of all her receipts each month and analysing her expenditure patterns.
Make use of other benefits available to you
Some employers offer Free Health Schemes (Physiotherapy, Dental, etc), Investment Share Schemes. If these are offered to you , they’re almost always worth it.
Meditate on these points:
- What would you do if you had all the money you thought you’d ever need?
- What does your versions of “happy” and “rich” look like?
Write down the answers on a piece of paper and take time to thin about them as you’re doing it. Keep the paper and repeat the exercise 1 week to 10 days later and compare your thoughts. Chances are the second time, you’ll have more detail. Having these targets in mind opens your mind to more possibilities , which all contributes to making a more future-proof plan.
In summary, planning finances is important, you cannot afford not to save! But the idea is not that you live a deferred life, where you have zero enjoyment and save everything for the future – the balance that needs to be found is personal and will require some work, but in the long term will be worth it! Use tool like MS Excel or Open Office to create wish list, track your goals, and plan milestones.
Remember, the most important thing is to get started, you can always iterate and improve your automated savings plans.
Don’t worry about the lack of spontaneity with this approach, you can always create a “spontaneous purse”!!