Soup’s on ain’t a soupçon!

As the days draw shorter, the sun stays hidden for longer and the colder weather encourages us to hibernate away, coupled with constrained financial conditions, we can be forgiven for falling into the trap of thinking smaller, trying to save both money and energy.

When it comes to cooking for the family – here’s a great idea to stretch out a little, as if the sun is shining warmly again.

Soups! They are jam-packed with vitamins to help you fight against the flu, the ingredients are basic, it’s affordable, you can keep it for ages if frozen and… it’s a great hot meal!

Warm, hearty foods on a cold day both comfort and sustain. Slow cookers can be bought for relatively cheap and use little energy – so set the soup up before you head out, and arrive home to a delicious aroma – and a delicious supper.

Let’s be honest, convenience is expensive; cooking from scratch means that you can buy vegetables and other ingredients in bulk while they’re on special and cook up batches of soup or stew that can be kept in the freezer for another few days. (Fresh fruit and vegetables are one of the most price variable foods, so it is generally better to buy what is in season.)

The other great thing about soups is that most vegetables can be used in their entirety (leaves, skin and all), without wastage or extensive prep time.

Hosting a soup party is a great winter alternative to a braai. Both have a casual atmosphere and instead of everyone bringing their own meat, guests bring soups, breads and cheeses.

Serving with soup mugs instead of bowls is a great way to keep things informal and everyone can dish up for themselves. There are literally thousands of soup recipes online to keep everyone happy – from hearty to creamy to spicy.

Once everyone has settled down – let the games begin! With everyone gathered around, soup mugs in hand, it’s the perfect time to introduce a game. There are lots of free smartphone apps that can work for group games, the trouble is finding a good one (I would recommend Heads Up!). If you’re a bit more old-school then feel free to break out a board game or cards.

The point of this blog is to highlight that it’s still possible to have a healthy meal and some good old-fashioned fun without spending a fortune on a fancy, formal dinner. Food is an everyday necessity that can be effectively used as an area for cutting down on costs, without sacrificing on nutrition and taste.

When Rona hits your wallet

Whilst we may try our best to keep our bodies safe from the flu – we may overlook the sluggish money myalgia that can hit us around this time too! You might have financial flu…

Every winter our communities are hit by different strains of coronavirus (root of the common cold and flu). COVID-19 is the latest strain that initially impacted our health systems, and then quickly affected our financial systems and virtually every other area of society, politics and the economy.

As with our bodies where some of us are more resistant than others and show very little symptoms, our financial situation may be more or less resistant to financial flu. We might handle financial stress very well, and bounce back quickly, but some of us may not.

People around the world are currently under financial stress – which will lead back to physical and emotional stress too.

This typically shows up in the difficulty an individual or household could have in meeting financial commitments due to both a shortage and/or misuse of money.

Many of us with financial flu may find that we are stressed continually about our finances, specifically around things like: short-term debt, car and credit card payments; extended family obligations; not being able to save; not having enough for any emergencies; and school or university fees.

Being able to list these different stresses helps us talk about them and deal with them, one at a time.

In 2017, Sanlam’s Benchmark survey cited that short-term debt was the biggest source of stress. Not much has changed.

Viresh Maharaj, CEO of Sanlam Employees Benefits: Client Solutions, rightfully pointed out that this stress would be considered an epidemic if we were referring to a disease. “If this was the flu, then 70% of South Africa said they’ve got the flu at the same time, it would be headline news.”

In most countries the middle class is the backbone of the economy and pays a substantial part of the country’s tax system. A lot depends on this sector, so these levels of stress are concerning.

If you are feeling like this resonates with you, and you’re showing similar symptoms, one of the conversations you might like to have is around conspicuous consumerism, as well as demanding economic conditions. The advertising industry has created “a culture of consumption on steroids” that needs to be addressed. Maharaj also ascertains that “while the National Credit Act includes various checks and balances… it doesn’t address the fact that being able to pay for something is not the same as being able to afford something.”

The findings from the Sanlam survey suggest that many middle-class citizens may struggle to meet short-term goals, which may have a knock-on effect of limiting their capacities to ensure they have enough funds to properly provide for their retirement.

Many individuals seem to be focusing on immediate financial concerns, and socio-economic constraints mean that the retirement funding issue isn’t being resolved. In the survey, over 60% of respondents “said they would work beyond retirement age, while 73% said they would reduce their current standard of living.”

However, we don’t have to be part of this statistic. Now’s the season to get our financial flu jabs and build up our immunity to making costly financial decisions. Protect yourself from any kind of flu this winter by seeking advice and taking the appropriate measures to ensure your long-term financial wellbeing.

Mid-Year Money Check

Many of us only look at our financial plan when we receive a windfall (this is not often…) or when things go terribly wrong. It could be the loss of a job, the loss of a loved one or another crisis (like a global lockdown…).

These aren’t necessarily the best times to make investment decisions or changes to our financial plans as emotions are often running extremely high during times of transitions and our stress levels will be elevated.

That’s why taking the time to do regular (quarterly or biannual) reviews gives you a better baseline from which to assess your portfolio and keeps you in the practice of being aware of what’s going on with your money. This is often easier said than done, and if you currently find yourself needing to make some changes, and are highly emotional or stressed, make sure you include an impartial third-party to assist you with this.

Your review should consider each of your financial priorities and your strategy for reaching them. If the conditions have changed, adjustments need to be made to make these priorities attainable in your desired time frame. Again, don’t feel pressured into doing this alone – include the others in your family who contribute to making and spending your combined income, and bring in your financial adviser.

As you do this, you will quickly notice that your priorities will change, you may need to rebalance some of your investments or portfolio products. This is okay – being flexible inside of your plan is as important as checking in with it regularly.

Thinking about a will, health care proxy, and power of attorney can be uncomfortable, but the alternative is letting someone else make these decisions for you. If you don’t have these key documents, take the time to set them up. If you already have them then a review might be in order. Life events such as moving, having children or grandchildren, or losing a loved one can have a big impact on your overall plan.

Careful, regular planning is essential in all economic climates. Are you preserving your assets? Are you protecting your income? Are you saving tax efficiently? A review can help prioritize financial decisions that you need to make to support your own and your family’s goals across generations.

Hold onto your life cover

Sometimes it feels like this conversation is a broken record, constantly going round and around on the same track: people the world over are feeling the financial pinch and tightening belts.

It’s not just a local issue, and it’s not a new concern.

A few minutes on Instagram or Twitter will reveal just how many are building their third, fourth or fifth ‘side hustle’. This is partly because our internet age has made alternative streams of income more viable, but also because our current economic pressures make it almost impossible for families to cope with a single, or even dual, income.

When external pressures leave us feeling hard-pressed, it may be tempting during such times to reduce or release our risk cover policies – with life cover being a common policy to cancel. Sometimes, these decisions are made in order to maintain a certain living standard – however, this could have dire financial consequences for your loved ones.

Life cover is never an easy conversation to have. And when things are tight, you have to weigh up paying your monthly premiums against the potential effect on your family if they were to lose your income entirely in the event of a disaster.

The problem with cancelling your life cover isn’t just that it is a massive risk, but that it also may be impossible to replace it as you grow older.

Many people may assume that you can simply cancel your life assurance then reinstate it when it’s easier to afford. However, premiums are likely to be substantially higher when you’re older (cover is said to cost double at the age of 45 what it costs at age 25). Health conditions may also be excluded from the cover and, in the worst case, you may even be uninsurable if you are diagnosed with certain illnesses.

Even missing the payment of a few premiums can have a negative effect. Not only may you need to undergo the underwriting procedure again, but any deterioration in your health would be taken into account when considering policy reinstatement and premiums.

So what are the alternatives?

4 possible alternatives to cancelling life cover (this is not financial advice)

1. Reduce your monthly expenses
Cut back on items that aren’t essential, such as your television subscription. Critically evaluate your budget and examine what is imperative versus what you just would like. Remember, this is not forever, it’s about prioritizing your financial security.

2. Re-negotiate your debts
Try approaching creditors or your bank to negotiate terms of any repayments. They may be willing to accept smaller sums over a longer period.

3. Press pause on your savings
Consider taking a ‘payment holiday’ on your contributions to an investment portfolio.

4. Negotiate your premium payment pattern
Request to change to an escalating-premium pattern for your life cover, which means that your initial premiums will be lower and increase over time.

Please note that the above four points are suggested options, if you would like to review your plan inside of your changing situation – please arrange a meeting for us to objectively make the best decisions according to your individual needs. It is important to stay educated about life cover and informed about affordable solutions, so please discuss this if it is a concern.

Working with different money personalities

As the 2020 global pandemic for COVID-19 becomes forever etched in our history, most of us will remember how the term ‘lockdown’ moved from a novelty to a serious psychological threat. At the point of writing this blog, it’s not clear just how vast and integrated the knock-on effect of lockdown will be, but for most of us it’s confronted us with conversations we’ve never had to have before.

Being confined indoors, or a specific area for an extended period of time brings out the deeper facets of our personalities and stress coping skills. Several years ago an article by Maya on Money spoke to money personalities – and whilst this has perhaps been overlooked or avoided by many, lockdown will most certainly be a catalyst for addressing it now!

Money has been cited as the biggest reason for divorce, and differing attitudes towards money in any relationship can cause friction. So let’s take a look at some basic ‘money personalities’ and you can decide with which you most identify.

This may not only help you manage your relationships in both trying or triumphant times, but also how to go about managing your wealth creation as a couple, family or shared living arrangement.

1. The Spendthrift
A spendthrift tends to be extravagant and spontaneous with regards to money matters. However, sometimes they can be irresponsible and need protection from making financial mistakes and getting into debt that they can’t afford.

2. The Saver
Someone who saves may have quite modest tastes and needs, and long-term they may well reap the rewards of their cautious approach. However, their financial prudence and love for budgeting could be a turn-off for someone who is not that way inclined.

3. The Cinderella
Maya Fisher-French refers to the ‘Cinderella Complex’ in her article when she considers a woman’s unconscious (or conscious) desire to be cared for. Some people are simply looking for a partner who can spoil them, which Fisher-French refers to as a Blesser.

4. The Financially Independent
Other people make it their main focus to become financially independent so that they can manage their money and responsibilities on their own. They pride themselves on working hard to become financially organised and not needing to rely on anyone else. This type of person may fret about being pulled down by someone who is less financially astute.

5. The Power Hungry
Power plays can arise if someone uses money to wield power over others. The adage, “he who holds the gold, makes the rules,” may be true in some relationships – especially if there is a big difference in earnings. Money can create a shift in power that can be easily abused if all parties are not careful.

Rules should be agreed on by all who rely on each other. Different money personalities can be compatible if a balance is achieved; everyone needs to recognise the strengths they are bringing to the relationship.

For example, a Saver can help a Spendthrift to avoid some financial miscalculations, while a Spendthrift can teach a Saver to loosen up and enjoy splashing a bit of cash sometimes.

Likewise, someone who enjoys spending money on their family could be compatible with those who enjoy having money spent on them.

If there has been a major change (loss of income or work for any of the income earners in the home) it can be enormously stressful if we don’t have the words and tools to have better conversations about earning, saving and spending the household money.

It’s powerful to know what type of money personality you are and to find synergy in your relationships. It’s not necessarily a question of having the same attitude and approach to money issues, but rather finding compatibility and compromise.

A level head saves skewed vision

As Nelson Mandela said, once we’ve climbed a great hill we only find that there are many more hills to climb. When you’re looking up or down the hill, it’s easy to have a skewed vision of what’s really going on. We spend more time going up and down than resting at the top; it’s difficult to hold a level head in times of turmoil.

You may look at your bank statement this morning and see that there won’t be enough to cover your debit orders and upcoming expenses. This is scary! Conversely, you may see plenty of money and fear wasting it!

Money will always flow in and out; the longer we live and earn, the more we are reminded of this.

Whether your financial resources are lean or lush, you may be tempted to make some big moves to manage the coming months as wisely as you can.

When it comes to managing your investments it’s crucial to stay focused on the bigger picture – even when recent events may have you itching to move your investments out of the market and into cash. We need to keep a level head and not skew our vision.

The herd mentality, or groupthink, to ‘cash in’ arises from the fact that cash investments are readily available for use and are mostly free of investment risk. The low risk of a bank failing is essentially the only concern as they are investments on short-term, variable-rate deposits with reputable banks.

However, in an article published at the start of April 2017 in Personal Finance, Leigh Kohler, the head of research at Glacier by Sanlam (South Africa), explained that it’s important in uncertain times to remember that even though a cash investments may seem like a comparably safe option, the returns don’t often beat inflation. According to her, only once between 2001 and 2016, did cash investments outperform local equities and bonds.

Furthermore, if you had been invested only in South African equities over this period, you would have received an average return of 17.12%, compared to just 7.96% if you had only invested in local cash investments.

You are also taking two market-timing risks if you wish to move your investments into cash then back again once things have calmed down, and research shows that getting the timing wrong can be a devastating blow to your portfolio.

What should you do in lieu of making an emotional decision?

  • Slow down your decision making process and include your trusted adviser;
  • Invest in a combination of asset classes in line with your needs, time horizon, and risk tolerance;
  • Invest in a suitable multi-asset fund;
  • Ensure you have sufficient exposure to offshore assets;
  • Understand and believe in your long-term investment strategy, then stick to it.

Scary times come and go – the burden of responsibility weighs on us regardless. How we protect and use our hard earned wealth and accumulated assets need to reflect what’s truly important to us, and not be a reaction to current trends and happenings.

Avoid these investment decisions

Do you know what’s going to happen in the markets tomorrow?

Neither do we!

All we know is that the markets are an opportunity to invest our money in helping the economy grow, and watching our money grow with it. That’s a really simplistic view, but it helps us extract our emotional reactions from the final decisions that we make.

Should we ignore fear? Absolutely not – we should talk about it lots! That’s one of the benefits of having a financial adviser that you trust on your side. Talking things through is a great way to avoid knee-jerk reactions.

Having recently researched some articles on Investopedia and USnews – here are some emotional reactions to avoid.

1. Avoid isolating your decisions
Rather examine the potential impact that each decision could have on an entire portfolio. This applies to selling AND buying. Failure to do this can result in you investing too much in a single asset class, industry, or geographic market. It could also result in your selling off when the market is at its lowest. Remember to step back, look at the bigger picture and then make your decision.

2. Avoid looking at the immediate conditions
Don’t just ignore the potential of long-term wealth accumulation in favour of short-term losses or returns. Statistically, losses happen more frequently over a short timeframe and, as people tend to be very sensitive to losses, a behavioural phenomenon known as ‘myopic loss aversion’ occurs, which affects willingness to take short-term risks. This, in turn, results in people making emotion-based investment decisions that can have a negative effect on a portfolio.

3. Avoid blindly following the crowd
A good investment strategy is to buy low and sell high, but if you follow the masses blindly, it’s easy to end up buying high and selling low, which may have opposite results and prevent you from taking advantage of the same market opportunities. A buy-and-hold strategy is often far superior.

If you know that you can be prone to having knee-jerk reactions, you may wish to try to avoid constant information about how the market or your portfolio is performing, so that you can just focus on sticking to your long-term investment strategy. Don’t chase the news or get swept away by fear and groupthink.

4. Avoid frequent trading
Again, if you are prone to having a sometimes irrational bias towards action you need to slow things down. Moving too quickly can result in higher investment costs and an increase in making poor decisions.

If you ever have itchy feet, it can often be a good idea to wait a few days before executing a big financial decision and seek advice by organising a meeting to discuss an option.

5. Avoid investing money that you cannot afford to lose
It’s important to keep cash on the side for emergencies and opportunities. You may not feel happy having some of your money just sitting there, not earning boastful returns, but having all your money tied up in the market is a risk that’s arguably not worth taking.

To help you make healthy financial decisions, set yourself some rules, such as only contributing a percentage of your monthly income; and establish some realistic targets, such as aiming to save a certain amount of money by the end of the year. Some people can even find it helpful to limit their options by purchasing more illiquid investments to avoid the urge to simply sell or switch on a whim or when the markets aren’t performing as desired.

Many people also find delegation a handy tool. By delegating your financial decisions to a professional who you trust to manage your portfolio, you can spare yourself a lot of stress and rest assured that you will receive sound advice as to how best to execute your financial plan to achieve your goals.

Don’t sabotage your future self

Bad market performance, government lockdowns, global epidemics and loadshedding aren’t what threaten our investing and financial behaviour.

Our biggest threat is ourselves.

Studies have shown that people improve substantially in financial and investment decisions as they get older. When we are young — and perhaps less secure in our financial situation — we have a tendency to be controlled by emotional biases; strong impulses that can be detrimental to our investment habits.

Behavioural economists refer to some typical flaws that are commonly seen in investment decisions as failures of rationality. In order to achieve long-term financial goals, it is, therefore, important to identify and wrestle with some of our personality-driven investing mistakes.

Even more so when we’re going through a crisis and it’s confrontational!

It’s hard, but it’s not impossible.

The first step is to accept that a problem exists in the way that we approach our decision making – before we sabotage ourselves. It is then a question of devising a set of strategies to control, or at least mitigate, harmful decisions.

It’s important to be kind to yourself at this point – sabotaging your future self DOES NOT mean overextending yourself now to keep up with premiums, but it also means not selling off investments out of fear if it’s not in your best interest. The goal is to slow your decision process down so you avoid making errors you will regret.

According to a survey conducted by Barclays Wealth, many wealthy investors realise their tendency to make emotional decisions, and would be happy to have some help dealing with certain issues.

The ability to exercise control plays a vital part in financial decision-making, especially when investment climates can be volatile, confusing, and nerve-wracking. It is important to feel confident in your financial plan, so that you can resolutely commit to whatever investment strategy you decide will benefit your future self best.

For example, research suggests that there is a psychological phenomenon referred to as the trading paradox. A high percentage of investors feel they need to trade frequently in order to maximise their investment gains but, at the same time, many of the same investors feel that their overall returns suffer because they trade too much. Even though certain investors have this realisation and see the downfalls of their actions, they still give in to emotionally-triggered temptations and often miss out on optimal returns as a result.

Behavioural coaching, in this instance, could help someone to focus on methods of changing this behaviour for good.

Behavioural Coaching

Behavioural coaching employs a range of professional techniques to help you to make changes to certain patterns of behaviour. Behaviour comprises actions and reactions, and behavioural coaching has been defined by the Behavioural Coaching Institute as “the art of facilitating the learning and development of an individual, so as to increase their effectiveness and happiness”.

It emphasises that much of human behaviour is, in fact, learned, and that all behaviours result in positive or negative consequences for the individual and those around them.

This model of coaching, therefore, involves identifying and measuring certain learned behaviours and their impacts. To do this requires an exploration of core values and motivations, as well as assessing covert behaviours (such as anxiety or self-defeating beliefs) in relation to overt actions (such as public speaking).

Once you have identified an issue and sought professional guidance in establishing a personal set of effective coping mechanisms, it is important to consistently exercise your newfound good habits. These need to be practiced on an ongoing basis, and regular monitoring and evaluation will help you to achieve long-term success.

Fight the fear

When life doesn’t go according to plan, our first response will often be one of fear. Unfortunately, life generally never goes according to plan – so we encounter fear a lot!

Since fear cannot be avoided, we need to develop tools to cope with it so that we can allow it a constructive space in our lives, and not let it be a destructive force if left unchecked.

Hopefully, this brief article can spark conversations that will help us all learn to fight the fear in our daily lives and begin to explore our own unique reactions a little closer.

This blog is how we recognise our stress responses to fear, accept them and move past them.

If you ask most people what the typical responses to fear are, they may reply with ‘Fight or Flight’. But what many of us don’t know is that there are two more responses, these are Freeze and Fawn. None of these are good or bad, they’re just typical responses that we lean towards to cope with our fear.

With the help of trauma-informed treatment specialist, Patrick Walden, (LICSW), here are some brief overviews that he shared in an interview with The Mighty.

Fight (anger)
Those of us who tend toward the fight response innately believe power will guarantee the security and control that we may have lacked in childhood.

“Fight looks like self-preservation at all costs,” Walden told The Mighty, adding that this trauma response can manifest in explosive outbursts of temper, aggressive behavior, demanding perfection from others or being “unfair” in interpersonal confrontations.

He also noted that while we typically associate the fight response with men, women can also struggle with anger, though in many cases they direct their anger inward at themselves instead of toward others.

Recognising our default response to be angry will help us temper this response and create space to calm down before making any decisions or hurting people around us unnecessarily.

Flight (anxiety)
This fear response usually shows up in people who are chronically busy and perfectionistic. They may believe “being perfect” is a surefire way to receive love and prevent abandonment by important people in their lives.

“Flight can look like obsessive thinking or compulsive behavior, feelings of panic or anxiety, rushing around, being a workaholic or over-worrying, [and being] unable to sit still or feel relaxed,” Walden said.

Taking time to meditate and reduce anxiety is helpful for those of us who tend towards this type of response.

Freeze (avoidance)
Some of us who experience the freeze response are often mistrustful of others and generally find comfort in solitude. The freeze response may also refer to feeling physically or mentally “frozen” as a result of trauma, which people may experience as dissociation.

“Freeze looks like spacing out or feeling unreal, isolating [yourself] from the outside world, being a couch potato … [and having] difficulty making and acting on decisions,” Walden said.

If you feel like this when fear hits, having a few people you trust and can encourage you to take action would be helpful to overcoming your fears.

Fawn (accommodating)
Fawning is perhaps best understood as “people-pleasing.” According to Walker, who coined the term “fawn” as it relates to trauma, people with the fawn response are so accommodating of others’ needs that they often find themselves in codependent relationships.

“Fawn types seek safety by merging with the wishes, needs and demands of others. They act as if they unconsciously believe that the price of admission to any relationship is the forfeiture of all their needs, rights, preferences and boundaries.”

If you’re a ‘YES’ person and struggle to enforce boundaries, remind yourself that it’s okay to say ‘NO’ and put yourself first. If you don’t work on yourself you will have nothing to give others in times of crisis.

Remember, we will all experience fear – every day in fact. Most of the time the fear that we experience is easy to cope with, but when fear becomes debilitating we need to bring it in check so that we can move forward and not find ourselves stuck in our fear or reacting in fear.

For the full article on The Mighty – click here.

Make your life easier – Part 3

Don’t avoid digital help. Whilst there are many dystopian stories about how robots will take over the world, those projected realities are highly unlikely to ever manifest.

AI, big data and cloud storage can be our friend in making our life easier – which is what technology was always intended for!

Granted, we can easily become disconnected from the material and relational world around us if we immerse ourselves too completely in the digital world, so balance is always crucial – but still, we can be astute in how we use it.

These tips are all about how digital space can create more space in your life

USE CLOUD STORAGE

Everyone seems to talk about ‘the cloud’ as if we all actually understand what that means. If you’re feeling left out, here’s a quick explanation. Storing information in the cloud means that you’re using someone else’s computer (called a hosting or cloud server, like Google Drive) to store your information, and that computer is always online. This means that you can access your information through the internet, from any device, in any location at any time – provided you have internet access.

Google, Microsoft, Dropbox – these are all good examples of cloud servers but there are literally hundreds of options.

The ultimate advantage to you is that your information is kept off-site. So… when you spill coffee on your laptop, a power-surge blows your desktop or you drop your phone in the loo, you don’t lose your data. You can store photos and family videos in the cloud. You might want to scan and save important documents – the options are limitless.

It also helps if you run a business. Instead of having an expensive local server, you can share all information in the cloud so that your team can access what they need. And again – should anything happen to a device (or everything in your office), you can keep valuable business information safe and accessible.

USE A VIRTUAL DIGITAL ASSISTANT (VDA, VA or DA)

Most smartphones come with a built-in DA (Siri and Alexa are great examples), but we use them to do fun things like finding out the time in a different country and playing a specific song.

But, you can use your DA to set up tasks and reminders. This can range from phone calls that you need to make, emails you might need to follow up on in two to three months or everyday tasks like managing your shopping list.

If you couple this tip with cloud storage, you can create shared lists that anyone in your family or team can update. From shopping lists, monthly budgets and wish lists for holidays, birthdays and home improvements, integrating your use of Siri in your daily life will make your life WAY easier.

If there is something in your life that is causing stress because it’s clumsy or cumbersome, see how you can change it to make your life easier!