Best ways to get a handle on your money

Today, most people are aware about how volatile the markets are. Everyone is concerned about what could next bring the markets to a halt, collapsing years of financial investment and careful planning. Of course, even the smartest economists and finance experts in the world could not have seen the dramatic events of the last few years. All we can do as individuals is manage our own money in smart ways. With modern technology, this has proven easier than ever before.

Create a budget

The most important first step to any engagement with finances is budgeting. This involves knowing how much we’re earning versus how much we’re spending. As the Balance notes in their guide to making a budget: “If you spend less in one area, you can spend more in another or choose to save that money for a larger future purchase, building a ‘rainy day’ fund, or even for retirement.”

Budgeting is, primarily, about control. If we don’t have control then we can’t know the best action.

Track spending

With today’s technology it’s easier than ever to track how we’re spending money. Most major banks have official apps that automatically send out notifications for when we make purchases or money is deducted from our account. When making a budget, plan a month where we track every expense we’re notified of. Then start calculating.

Consider investments

Another advantage to better technology is having a handle on our investments. From being able to more easily compile fund fact sheets to informing us in real-time about changes in the market, tech has become more precise and faster recently. This shouldn’t stop us speaking to our brokers and experts, of course. Just because we can get the information more easily and faster doesn’t mean we know what to do with it.

Get rid of luxuries

None of us want to be too puritanical and conservative in what we spend our hard-earned money on. But in this difficult climate, it might be wise to take a harder look at what we’re purchasing and why. We need to be harder on ourselves and really question if we need something or whether we just want it. With modern tech, we can easily find price comparisons, whether this item is really necessary or if there aren’t alternatives and so on. With a quick Google search, for example, all our questions can be answered, helping us curb our buying something immediately. This can help us make better judgements and stop frivolous purchases.

(Image credit: Tech in Asia / Flickr)

Important health tips as we age

There’s no getting around the fact that we’ll age. Every birthday is a reminder we’re adding another year to our lives and that means our bodies alter, too. We can’t help but age, since we are part of the natural world. That doesn’t mean we’re completely vulnerable though. It’s important for us to know how to help ourselves in terms of aging, so we don’t succumb entirely to this process.

This matters to our lives, our ability to work and so on.

Stay active

These days, with the massive amount of incredible technology, it’s easy to work from the comfort of a desk and chair. Indeed, we can run an entire office, have meetings and complete complicated tasks all without leaving our homes. This does not encourage movement or activity though.

Due to workload, we often think we have no time for activity. We work a whole day, come home and have to prepare for the evening. Parents, in particular, have to add in the additional attention required to look after their children. This, however, should not be an excuse to ignore our health and fitness concerns.

At the office, we can take a few minutes every hour to walk around – if we’re lucky, we can have a room to ourselves to do simple quick exercises like push ups. If possible, bring weights and, when we’re not using our hands, do some exercises with at least one arm. Time Magazine has a list of what it calls “deskercises”, which are designed to be workouts performed at the desk.

Eat properly

What we put into our body is just as important as how we exercise it. Every person has individual requirements, but there are overarching foods we should stay away from – or at the very least cut down on. Sugar, for example, is of major concern to many health professionals. As Eat This notes:

“Although it’s impossible to stop the aging process, it’s possible to keep your youthful complexion later into life by cutting back on sugar, a nutrient that’s been shown to accelerate wrinkling and sagging.”

They provide an excellent list of what to avoid, showing precisely why such food stuffs only exacerbate the aging process.

Think about the future

Though we may not want to, we must start thinking about topics like retirement and medical aid schemes for pensioners. We will eventually reach these stages and we must have a foundation on which to create security. A secure foundation now means a better future later. Most of us think we might live forever, but this is obviously not true. And this mindset prevents proper preparation, meaning our later selves lose out.

It’s time we start preparing now and take a proper response to the reality of ageing.  

(Image credit: decor8 holly/flickr)

Traits that prevent people being in control of their finances

Most of us would love to have perfected ways to not mess up our finances. Yet, given how complex managing money is, it’s no wonder we’re not always the best. But, aside from studying for years to become experts at financial management, we should consider the link between the growing field of behavioural finance and wealth management.

First we should figure out what behavioural finance is and then see how it applies.

Behavioural finance defined

As Investopedia summarises:  

“Behavioral finance is a relatively new field that seeks to combine behavioral and cognitive psychological theory with conventional economics and finance to provide explanations for why people make irrational financial decisions.”

The importance of it is that it refocuses people as not being entirely rational, acting and behaving because of factors beyond their control. These often lead to bad financial decisions and terrible management of wealth.

Bad traits to avoid

The Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (or the RSA) compiled a recent list of the traits hindering people’s ability to manage their finances. Their report showed that particular bad beliefs shaped behaviours in unhelpful ways.

These are the six they noted.

Cognitive overload: When we have too much to worry about or on our minds, we make bad decisions. This often happens during times of financial distress, meaning we end up making matters worse. To counter this, we should seek professional financial help and try separate our knee-jerk responses.

Empathy gaps: This is when we purchase based on an inability to put ourselves into different stages of time. For example, we’ll buy food on an empty stomach but not when we’re full – this might be a bad choice for various reasons (buying while hungry could be cognitive overload, while full means we don’t save for later). This applies to bigger financial choices, too. The solution again is to be as neutral as possible when acting and acting sooner rather than later.

Optimism and overconfidence: Having unrealistic expectations drenched in optimism means we make bad decisions. We should operate on facts, not fantasy.

Instant gratification: Instead of saving for the long-term and making our money grow, we buy instantly. It feels better. We should be looking long-term (this ties into empathy gaps).

The report continues:

“Harmful habits: automatic or mindless behaviour can amplify a poor financial decision as it becomes a recurring event.

Social norms: we are heavily influenced by the actions of others; while this can be helpful in certain circumstances, it also contributes to the pressure to keep up with the Joneses through conspicuous consumption.”

In each of these, the common response is one where we should be neutral and operate on evidence. Only in this way can we do better for ourselves in the future.

How much should you spend on a car?

Cars – even the cheapest ones – are expensive. A junker that breaks down twice a month will still set you back a few thousand. A nice one with leather seats and a sweet sound system costs more than most people make in a year. For most people, having a car isn’t a choice. It’s required to get to and from work, to go the grocery, to see friends – basically to go almost anywhere in a country where public transport isn’t always reliable.

If you are looking at buying a new car or used car, it’s important to choose a car you can afford to spend money on.

How much do you earn?

The car you are able to afford should be based on your income and how much you are willing and able to spend on a car on a monthly basis. Affordability is the most important factor to consider when buying new or pre owned cars. Please also consider your net and disposable income. The general accepted rule of thumb is that you shouldn’t spend more than 20% of your total income on car payments.

What costs should you consider before buying a car?

Firstly, the purchase price will affect how much you pay every month. The more expensive the car, the more you can expect to spend in monthly instalments. Secondly, your down payment. The more money you pay upfront, the less your monthly instalment will be. You can trade in your current vehicle or sell it privately, which can contribute towards a larger down payment. Then, your monthly insurance cost will depend on the type of car you choose to drive and your driver risk profile. Also, the fuel price and the distances you travel will influence the cost of owning a car.

How can you save money when buying a car?

Buying a car is expensive and can easily become a financial burden. To save money when buying a car, consider paying cash for the car if you can. This means you won’t have to worry about monthly instalments and crippling interest rates. If you can’t pay cash for the car, you’ll have to finance the car. In that case, aim to pay off your car as quickly as possible at the lowest interest rate you are able to obtain.

Down Payment

Try to make your down payment as large as you possibly can, you may even be able to apply for a shorter financing period. No down payment often leads to an ‘upside down loan’ which means that you owe more than what the car is worth. Avoid this situation at all costs.

The amount of money you choose to spend on a car will depend on your personal financial situation and how much you are willing to spend. Remember, buying a car is expensive and you should therefore buy a car you are able to afford and maintain over time without compromising your financial security.

 

How design thinking can improve the world

Making things better is never a destination so much as it is a direction. Improvement is ongoing, as we try to make the world a better place for everyone in all sorts of spheres. One way the smartest people are examining the world is through the lens of design and applying it to areas they otherwise would not. This is worth considering for business people, in terms of thinking outside the box and finding new ways to approach their services.

What is design thinking?

The broad category of design thinking has long been recognised as an ideal focus for business and all manner of responses to problems. As FastCompany notes, design thinking consists of four principles

  1. Define the problem: this means constantly questioning what needs to be solved and why. It’s not merely agreeing there is a problem, but knowing exactly why it is a problem in the first place. Many who use design thinking stress the need for definition, since the act of defining is a constant focus on clarification.
  2. Diversify our options: Just because a response has worked in the past doesn’t make it the best one. We must consider as many as we can which can help solve the problem.
  3. Refine the direction: After outlining solutions, we must narrow down the best ones. This is hard, because some responses require time to reach their potential.
  4. Execute on the chosen response: This simply means putting the response into action.

Though each part sounds obvious, the key to design thinking is observation and challenging assumptions about what we’ve observed. One expert told the Stanford Daily that design thinking is “a tangible scaffolding through which [one] can approach problem solving.” For her “reframing” the problem was perhaps the central tenant of the process. She noted the redesign of scissors as a tangible example of design thinking in action.

Healthcare application

One area we might not think this has an application is medical healthcare. Yet, at a recent conference, this was precisely the topic at hand. Medical experts at a Stanford conference noted that it’s helped reframe their approach to healthcare. They “are working to change the system by integrating design thinking into medical school training and patient care. Together, the speakers painted a clear portrait of what design thinking means to them.” From speaking more carefully to patients to rethinking interventions, they consider design thinking important in helping them improve their responses.

This is a mindset that can, therefore, operate on many levels – from designing scissors to rethinking healthcare. With such a vast scale, anyone – from artists to business people – can benefit from implementing such structure in their approach to problems.

(Picture credit: Dave Gray / Flickr)

Common mistakes that decreases a business’ value

A business’ value is everything to us as entrepreneurs. We want to create a business that thrives, retaining and increasing its customer base, delivering on promises and expectations. Yet, value is not easily obtained or maintained. So often, even the smartest business people make mistakes they should’ve known to avoid.

Forgetting profit margins

It might seem impressive if a business makes, say, $2 million a month. But that can become meaningless if its expenses are $1.9. Too often, we forget to truly appreciate profit margins, instead of revenue.

As Investopedia summarises: “Profit margin is part of a category of profitability ratios calculated as net income divided by revenue.”

As CEO Carl Erickson points out: “Profit alone doesn’t tell you as much as profit margin.” Margins are the first line of defence in a financial buffer. For Erickson, failure to focus on profit margins will decrease a business’ value and tend to indicate one that has a higher chance of ending up in trouble.

Any company interested in managing its corporate finance properly must consider this seriously.

Tough decisions

Faced with being able to keep the company alive versus employing an underperforming staff member is tough. A simple realisation sometimes is that there won’t be a company to pay this employee if we keep them, if they are harming the business.

Dick Grote, a management consultant noted: “Firing is the single most difficult thing we ask leaders to do… Even when the business justification is clear.”

Many might think that business people are merely empty suits, but often we are in positions where we know everyone. They rely on us for income and to be able to make ends meet. Yet, sometimes we have to end that relationship.

After all, it’s not merely one person we need to think of but many – including ourselves and our families. Failure and drawing out tough decisions can mean a business does poorly, since it means we’re paying for bad labour.

Not being vigilant

Sometimes success can be a cage. Business owners can look back at how the business is doing well and conclude nothing needs to change. After all, if it worked in the past, it will work in the future – surely? Unfortunately, as we now all know, the markets are incredibly volatile and new, powerful ideas are emerging all the time. Competition is no longer clearly defined, with various  businesses able to operate in multiple fields and suddenly dominate.

We must constantly be vigilant and think outside the box, no matter how successful we’ve been. It’s not one particular method that makes us good, it’s our ability to think creatively and carefully.

(Picture credit: Foto Infinity / Flickr)

Insights for SA investments in 2016

Knowing what to do with money is one of the most important things we must do. Unless we do this properly, money won’t simply be there or work for us without input. We must put in the necessary work, time and planning before deciding where to place our money. Broadly speaking, there are two directions we can take: saving or investments.

What is the difference between saving and investing?

As Personal Finance by the Book notes, there are significant differences between saving and investing.

“Savings are low risk funds that must be liquid (available) when you need them. The purpose of saving money is so you can have it for a specific purpose within a short time frame.”

Investments serve a different purpose. These we utilise for wealth building and aren’t, for example, emergency funds we can access at anytime. They involve more risk but also provide greater rewards. The richest people in the world became that way most likely due to smart and lucky investing.

Investment tips for South Africans

Every country has its own issues when it comes to dealing with the stock market. This means what might work in America might not work in South Africa. However, sometimes there are overarching perspectives from which anyone can benefit.

The first step to anyone considering their investments is to speak with professionals. Brokers can provide greater insight into how best to use our money, but that doesn’t mean their word is gold. Nonetheless, experts have been speaking about what people can do to help their investments.

For example, finance expert Warren Ingram pointed out the markets are extremely unsettled at the moment. With international events like the American Presidential election and the recent “Brexit” move in the UK, people are scrutinising their options more carefully than ever. Says Ingram:

“When global and local markets are so volatile, investors would do well to keep their portfolios highly diversified across a range of asset classes and international markets.”

By this, Ingram means we must not only invest in one kind of option or stock. We should consider many. As the saying goes, we don’t want to put all our eggs in one basket.

Importantly, we must not think of investments in South Africa like gambling – investments aren’t purely about luck, but smart interventions and consideration of our options. Gambling is entirely luck-based and no amount of research will tell us how to get the dice to land in our favour.

Other ways we can do well is to start saving and investing early. This allows time to do a lot of the work for us. Young people have time on their side and should use this to their advantage.  

Best communication tools for business and personal use

These days, the vast amount of information, data and programs we can run on multiple devices is staggering. Phones are powerful computers and cars increasingly have become so advanced they communicate with mobile devices. For the modern business person, there is no way to overlook the importance of this rapid progress, particularly if we want to do utilise the best tools.

These tools matter to everyone, not merely business people. But it is business people who can benefit most.

What are communication tools?

Before knowing which ones to choose, we should understand what these tools are. Communication tools include such things as phone systems, a company email hosting provider, proper website platforms, a file-sharing system, a CRM (customer relationship management platform) and, of course, a project management system. As Forbes notes, it doesn’t matter how big the company is, the tools matter:

“Whether you’re a startup or a Fortune 500 company, every business needs to communicate effectively with their clients, employees and vendors.”

Communication is key to anything and everything. Bad communication can result in complete business failure, as customers are not informed about the business. This can mean everything from not knowing about our existence to being misinformed about product delivery times. Everyone having the same information is precisely the end goal of all good communication. This leads to sales, since customers know exactly what they want and what we offer.

What are the best communication tools?

There are a range of options because there are a range of tools to consider.

Google Apps

Google’s wide ranging apps all sync up with one Google account – this means if we use a Google account on our phones or desktop, all the information will be the same. This makes it ideal for collaboration, as we can see in real-time when updates occur and get instant notifications. The apps work with a wide variety of formats, from Word documents to Excel spreadsheets, so that everyone can be – sometimes literally – on the same page.

Office Suite

The move to cloud-based software and technology has resulted in many people being left behind. If we want to be as effective as possible, we should consider those companies that operate within cloud-based operations. OfficeSuite offers a range of solutions for various businesses of different sizes. Their effective, secure phone system is ideal for the modern digital business.

TeamViewer

Tired of explaining the same situation again and again to different colleagues? TeamViewer allows anyone access to desktops, applications and data, meaning we can skip explaining these issues, reduce miscommunication and decrease time wasting. Sometimes less explaining is better communication.

Of course, none of these tools are useful if we’re not skilled at communicating in the first place. Tools can only do so much. We should also perhaps seriously consider communication courses if we are serious about making our business as effective as possible.  

(Image credit: Microsiervos / Flickr)

6 things you can do that don’t need any talent

writingWhen you’re young and in your first job, it can be tough to make a good impression on your employers. Let’s be real, you don’t really know what you’re doing, you’re sure that you’re messing up every task and you feel so confused about everything going on around you. But the good news is there are thing you can do that don’t need any talent. These are the things that you can do which are sure to impress.

Being on time. It takes almost no effort on your part to be on time. Be at the office at the time you’re expected to be there. Be the first to arrive for a meeting. And, importantly, show up when you’re supposed to for your job interview. All of this makes an excellent impression and will be noticed. Set your alarm, get a good night’s sleep and get to work when you need to.

Working hard. You might not be the best at your work yet. But you can work hard. You can show that you’re happy to be there and happy to do the work.

Positive body language. You’d be surprised to learn how much you’re communicating without saying a word. Think about the signals your body is sending when you’re at meetings, chatting to colleagues and even standing at the coffee machine. You want to appear friendly and engaging, not rude and closed off.

Enthusiasm. Do you smile at colleagues and greet them when you walk past them? Or do you fail to make eye contact and walk around in silence? All of this is important to think about. Employers don’t appreciate the silent staffers who appear unhappy to be there. They want to see workers who actually seem to want to be there.

Willingness to learn. You’re young. You don’t really know what you’re doing. So you need to put in additional effort and show that you’re willing to learn. Whether you’re putting in some extra time to learn coding or asking a colleague to teach you the ins and outs of applying for equipment finance, showing that you want to learn is always a good trait when you’re in the working world.

Doing that little bit extra. This can mean anything from putting your hand up for additional work, jumping in to wash the coffee cups or offering to go to the shop to buy milk. What’s important is that you aren’t afraid to work hard and you aren’t afraid to let your colleagues and employers know that.

How to attract customers to your restaurant

foodThe best way to successfully target the right demographic to your restaurant is by using the most appropriate advertising methods. Your marketing strategy will determine whether or not you attract the right target market. Take careful consideration of the location of your restaurant, the ambiance, menu options and pricing as it will influence who you attract. Implement marketing strategies that will attract your desired demographic.  

Choice of menu and services

The range of meals on your menu, your prices and operational hours should cater or appeal to your target market. If you have a family styled restaurant, offer a range of low to mid cost food choices. Your menu should also include child-friendly items such as burgers, pizza or simple pastas. If seniors mostly frequent your restaurant offer familiar meals and large-print menus. Young professionals will expect a greater variety in menu choices. They will expect a wide range of mixed drinks and wine, along with trendy appetizers and desserts on your menu. In this case be sure to have extended hours for your establishment.

Decor and style

The style of your restaurant will need the right ambiance to attract the right demographic. For a sports bar you’re going to need home-town team paraphernalia and large television screens to watch sports. When it comes to fine dining you may need to upscale to attract older clientele who prefer an intimate dining experience.

For a family style restaurant you’re going to need decor which will also have a lasting impact for children as well as older people. Bright colours and comfortable seating usually appeals to children. Add colouring sheets and you have a winner for little ones. Your decor, music selection and the volume will be vital in attracting the kind of diners you want to frequent your restaurant. Have your demographic in mind when choosing lighting levels, seating options, taste and comfort.

Strategic targeting

Human resource management courses will teach you how to deal with employees, but what you also require is a study on your patrons. Thoroughly researching your demographic will give you insight into the best way to market to them. Advertise in places your potential customers live and work. Also make use of the media your demographic commonly uses. If you’re catering to senior citizens, your advertising won’t be the same as targeting a younger group of people. Print ads in local newspapers to reach those you know aren’t active on social media. Provide a free kids’ meal each night of the week for busy families.