Friday, March 21, 2014

Financial Wellness, A Personal Opinion

What is Financial Wellness? This may be subject to different interpretations depending on the person you ask, I generally see it as a state of wealth that is achieved by an individual. It is to have an understanding of your current financial situation and handling it in such a way that you are prepared for any financial changes, good or bad. But before I go any further, there 3 aspects of Financial Wellness that must be grasped:
1 .      Financial Wellness can be created.
2 .      Financial Wellness can be maintained and conserved.
3 .      Financial Wellness can be lost.

The quickest way to assess your financial situation is by asking the following questions: “Where is my money coming from?”, “Where is my money going?” And the most important question, “Am I comfortable with this situation I am currently in?” If you answered yes to the last question, I congratulate you because you have attained a state of financial wellness and you need not read any further. But I know that most of us, myself included will answer “No.” to the last question and this because you are not happy with your answers to the first 2 questions.

Let me cite some general answers to the first 2 questions:
“Where is my money coming from?”
1 .      Active Income: Comes from a job (full-time, part-time, freelance, self-employed etc.)
2 .      Passive Income, this is a great source and I’ll just the most common because there are a number. Comes from Investments (Interest earnings, dividends, capital appreciation).
3 .      Semi-Passive/Semi-Active Income: Comes from Home-Based Business, Personally Owned Businesses and the like.
“Where is my money going?” Listed from most common to least common in my opinion:
1 .      Necessary Expenses (Food, Utilities, Shelter, Sustaining Children, Medicine, Transportation, anything related to sustaining your health and the health of those you are responsible for.)
2 .      Business Expenses (Overhead, Payroll, Equipment, etc.)
3 .      Debts
4 .      Hobbies
5 .      Unnecessary Expenses (I’ll leave this for you to label on your own because what it is unnecessary to me may not be the same for you.)

If you have the specific answers (I highly doubt you wouldn’t have them since this is money we’re talking about.) then it’s easy to formulate a solution to turn your answer to question 3 from a “No.” into a “Yes.”, I’m not saying this will happen overnight but if you play your cards right and make sound choices, then it should happen. It really varies from person to person and can change depending on life circumstances and over time. For some it may be easy, for others more difficult, but it is possible, for everyone.
 Personally, when I started working, I didn’t really have a fixed strategy, all I knew was to set aside a set amount from my salary and put it into my BPI SDA account (Special Deposit Account), it’s an account that I’ve been putting money into since I was in College, that would represent my Life Savings. Then I got myself a Credit Card aka “The Loaded Gun”, I got it pretty late in my life because I never saw the necessity or convenience it provided until I found myself in one situation, I was about to run out of gas and pulled over at a gas station and I had my car filled up only to realize that I had no cash (I know, I should have checked first.), long story short, I had to leave my Driver’s License and my car (I brought the keys with me.) with the Gas boy and walk pretty far to an ATM to withdraw and pay for my gas. After that, I decided that I needed a Credit Card for times like that. I also found the convenience of being able to defer payments into 6, 12, or even 24 months (depending on the bank) giving me breathing room when it comes to making big purchases. And I also found that having a Credit Card, when used properly and strategically, if you take advantage of the float period (the period between the date of purchase to the actual date of repayment). A quick example: You bought a PS3 game today using your credit card, you’re not actually paying today for the game, you pay for it on the due date that is stated on your Credit Card account, which is usually 20-30 days after your cutoff date. My due date falls a week after my payday so it’s easy to budget when it comes to paying. But when it comes to Credit Cards, you only need to remember 2 things, keep your spending in check (don’t spend more than what you can afford to pay for.) and pay on time and in full because it’s not only going to save you interest charges, but it will also build you good credit. My way of keeping things under control is using a Spending Tracker App where I input all my credit card related expenses. After having my credit card, I decided to employ a different strategy or formula, it’s a little more advanced and it’s worked well for me and I’ve been using it for the past 2 years of employment.

Here is the formula/strategy: Salary = Debts -> Expenses -> Savings and/or Investments -> Leftover for personal consumption.
I personally use this formula with the “and” instead of the “or” in the Savings/Investments area because I achieve more by doing both instead of just one or the other. For the benefit of knowledge transfer, savings and investments are not the same thing; the simplest way I can define both are as follows:
Saving – It is the act of setting money aside in a safe place with the intention of using the money in the future or putting in a place that is very low risk and has the chance to earn some interest while keeping a medium to high degree of liquidity. (Ex: Savings Account, ATM Account, under the mattress, etc.)
Investing – This involves the commitment of money into an investment vehicle which can possibly produce a financial gain at a higher degree of risk and a low to medium degree of liquidity. (Ex: Stocks, Bonds, Mutual Funds, Variable Life Insurance, Real Estate, Business, etc.)
The two main differences of saving and investing is the degree of risk and the degree of liquidity. When it comes to saving, the degree of risk is generally very low, meaning your capital will almost always stay intact and it has a high degree of liquidity meaning the money is very easily accessible when needed, a very good example of this is an ATM Account, the money is there and you can withdraw it without any problems or issues. And when it comes to investing, the degree of risk is higher, meaning there is a chance that your capital may be decreased (or increased as the saying goes, the higher the risk, the higher the reward.) and it’s not as liquid as savings, meaning you cannot access your money immediately whenever you choose to do so. A good example of this is investing in the Stock Market, the market fluctuates on a daily basis and the chances of you losing money and earning money (depending on the moves you make.) are very likely to happen in the same day, however, if you wanted to liquidate your stocks by selling them, you wouldn’t get the money on the same day, you’d have to wait before you get your hands on it.

Now going back to the formula, I understand that we aren’t living in a perfect world where everything is balanced so I will cite a few examples of common situations where the formula I mentioned earlier may be very difficult or even impossible to achieve and some proposed solutions that can turn that difficulty or impossibility into something comfortable and possible.
For the situations, I will be using a base amount of P20,000 for the salary part of the formula.

Situation 1: Credit Card Debt = P8,000, Necessary Expenses = P3,500, Unnecessary Expenses = P3,500
P20,000 - (P8,000 + P3,500 + P3,500) = P5,000 left even before saving and investments come into the picture. This position is a very difficult one to be in, assuming you are only living off of that P20,000 paycheck, you might end up going hungry until the next paycheck. Not only that, but you have not been able to set aside anything to save and invest yet because your survival is more of a priority given what is left over from paying for your debts and expenses. This situation could also lead into something that will be worse in the long run, skipping debt payments and expenses which both have their negative repercussions (ex: Compounding Interest Charges for missed or partial Credit Card payments) that will affect people over the long term. Now looking at the variables in the situation, there are two elements that can be worked with that will directly affect the final result of the equation in a positive way. The two elements are Credit Card Debt and Unnecessary Expenses. Let me first tackle the Credit Card Debt element, the first and most obvious solution would be to lower the amount of things you charge to your credit card, I know this might sound blunt and straightforward but there is no other way to put it, things that you can pay off in cash and immediately, you’re better off doing that, I usually use my credit card for big purchases that can be deferred or for loading gas and a few online purchases. Secondly, before making any purchase with your credit card, you should first take note of how much you already have charged on the card so you know what you can and can’t spend, be sure you log everything you charge on the card as soon as you swipe it so you can easily keep track of it either through a mobile phone application (Spending app is what I use as mentioned above.) or go old school and write it down, nothing too complicated, just what you spent on and how much it costs. Now moving onto the second element, the unnecessary expenses, this is a very simple solution but not as easy to execute. You simply ask yourself, do I really need this? Is there a cheaper alternative? Then a thousand reasons of justification come flooding telling you “Yes, I need this”. But if you really want to reduce this element, sacrifices must be made. I’m not saying complete deprivation, I’m talking about reduction. Let’s look at a Starbucks Daily Habit as an example. Do you really need (I repeat, NEED.) to buy coffee from Starbucks every single day? Perhaps you could make it an M-W-F habit? Or if you really need a daily caffeine boost, I’m sure a coffee sachet or an energy drink could do just as well as a cup of Starbucks without being nearly as expensive. This is just one of the many examples that can be used to discuss the “Unnecessary Expenses” variable above. But by being able to reduce and lower the two variables above, I can assure you that the end result will positively change in a significant way. It may be difficult in the beginning but it will definitely be worth it.

Situation 2: Credit Card Debt = P2,500, Necessary Expenses = P3,500, Unnecessary Expenses = P2,000
P20,000 - (P2,500 + P3,500 + P2,000) - P2,000 (Set aside for Savings) = P10,000 left. This situation is slightly better than the previous one, there is more left over now because the Credit Card Debt and the Unnecessary Expenses have been kept under control. Now with this situation, we can start talking about saving or investing, hence the additional subtraction of P2,000. Take note, I said or here despite mentioning above that what is ideal is to do both, but given the situation only one of the two options should be made so that you are not left in an uncomfortable spot until your next paycheck. What I would suggest is that building up your savings (if you haven’t already.) should be put into priority here so that the risk is kept relatively low and that your capital will remain intact. For the formula used above, I chose P2,000 as the value to be set aside for saving, this value may seem small, but assuming that you maintain the same formula above every month, it will compound into something big despite the interest earnings being low. Also, with the amount chosen to set aside for savings, you are left with P8,000 which should be enough to get you through until your next paycheck since all debts and necessary expenses have been already paid for.

Situation 3: Credit Card Debt = P1,000, Necessary Expenses = 3,500, Unnecessary Expenses = P1,000
P20,000 - (P1,000 + P3,500 + P1,000) - P4,500 (Savings and Investment) = P10,000 left. This situation is now the most ideal situation to be in because you’ve covered all debts and expenses have been covered and a significant amount has been set aside for saving and investment. Now as for the saving and investment instruments to be chosen, it’s entirely up to you, up to your appetite for risk, your goals and your time frame to achieve these goals.

The things I’ve written are not an absolute rule to follow nor will they work for everyone, it’s a personal opinion that has worked for me and I put it out there in the hopes that it will help educate people.

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