Tread Lightly this Christmas

It’s easy for Christmas to turn into a frenzied flurry of wasteful consumerism, and to find ourselves knee-deep in ripped-up wrapping paper that we discard in a hurry before Christmas lunch. But before you fill black bin bags with gift tags and empty jars of cranberry sauce, pause for a second to think about how you could help the environment this festive period.

According to a report compiled by the World Bank in 2016, South Africa produced 54,425 tonnes of rubbish every day, which was the 15th highest rate in the world. And each household produced two kilogrammes every day, placing South Africa at number 38 in the global waste rankings on a per capita basis. As you can imagine, this amount increases significantly over the silly season, when most citizens tend to purchase (and throw away) even more than usual.

The amount of municipal solid waste is growing fast and, alarmingly, the World Bank’s data showed that only 1% of all waste in the world gets recycled — with the bulk (59%) ending up in landfills or being dumped (33%). With these statistics in mind, try to enjoy a Christmas of consciousness, rather than consumerism. It’s easy to minimise waste and cut costs this holiday if you just follow these five simple steps for starters.

1. Recycle
Cut down on waste by buying less and recycling more. Can you imagine how much of Kruger would be covered if everyone in South Africa laid out all the used wrapping paper on the ground? Luckily, it’s very easy to recycle, as is cardboard from packets of stuffing and empty toy boxes.

Take empty glass jars of mincemeat, pickles and cranberry sauce to the bottle bank, and recycle empty tins of biscuits and sweets. Even the foil from mince pies is recyclable, and don’t forget those empty plastic bottles of cleaning products once you’ve wiped up the gravy!

If you have bought a real Christmas tree, be sure to recycle it, so that it can be shredded and used as compost, which will help next year’s trees to grow. It can even be used as chipping to cover pathways.

2. Reuse
Christmas cards don’t have to be thrown away after the holidays. Instead, you can cut them up and make new cards or gift tags out of them. This will make you extra prepared for next Christmas and save a few Rand, as well as the environment!

And instead of wrapping presents, consider giving them in pretty gift bags. That way you can reuse them again next year and save on paper!

3. Donate
Some relatives are renowned for giving presents that you will never use in a million years. If this is the case, or if you’re given something that doesn’t fit, just smile sweetly and pass it on to someone in need who will appreciate it. There are lots of charities in South Africa that will distribute unwanted goods to those less fortunate, and one man’s junk is another man’s treasure.

4. Compost
It’s estimated that, as a global community, we throw out over 7 million tonnes of food every year. So, if you can’t get creative with the leftover turkey, or once you’ve had your fill of roast veg, throw all the tidbits and peelings in a compost bin. If you don’t have one in your garden, then there are plenty of small holdings that would be grateful for the extra compost ingredients.

5. Plant a tree
Instead of decorating a plastic tree or cutting down a real one, consider buying a living “Christmas tree” with roots. This doesn’t have to be a traditional fir, as plenty of trees or plants make for a great substitute that can be decorated with as many baubles and as much tinsel as you please. The best part is that it will continue to grow year after year, so that you’ll derive a lifetime of pleasure from it, instead of simply discarding it after a few weeks.

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Wealth tax for national healing?

Saturday, 16th December is an important day in the South African calendar as it marks the Day of Reconciliation. The significance dates back to two events in history. The first of these was in 1838, when the Battle of Blood River took place, and 470 Voortrekkers (who had the advantage of gunpowder) defeated the 10,000-strong Zulu army. This was after the Zulu chief, Dingane, misunderstood the Voortrekker leader, Piet Retief’s, intentions to negotiate, so murdered him and his party. This Voortrekker victory was then commemorated as the Day of the Vow.

The second historical event that took place on this date was in 1961 when the military wing of the African National Congress (ANC) — Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) — was formed to fight the Apartheid government, when it had become clear that passive resistance was no longer an option. Its formation has been commemorated every year since 1961.

However, this date was only first celebrated as a public holiday in South Africa on 16th December 1995, when it was renamed as the Day of Reconciliation. This was done as an endeavour by the country’s first democratic government to promote reconciliation and national unity by acknowledging the importance of this date to both the Afrikaners and the liberation struggle.

According to an article published in The Conversation, the South African government that ruled from 1994-1999 can largely be credited with trying to foster unity, heal wounds, and make attempts at socio-economic development. However, this 16th December, it has become clear that a great deal of damage has been caused by South Africa’s current administration led by President Jacob Zuma. Amidst state capture allegations, the country is now in recession, has been downgraded to junk status by credit agencies, and the corruption at the root of these issues has scared off many investors and eroded any trust in government.

It is clear that South Africa is in desperate need of a government that promotes national unity and healing again.

National healing will indeed require sacrifices from all South Africans to ensure a better future, and the possibility of a wealth tax has been raised as one of the ways citizens could contribute to the interests of the whole country. However, this only stands a chance of working if the money would be put to good use and not wasted through corruption and inefficiency.

A document published by the Davis Tax Committee highlights that “the distribution of wealth in South Africa is highly unequal… It is well established that economic inequality inhibits economic growth and undermines social, economic and political stability.”

South Africa currently has three forms of wealth taxation — estate duty, transfer duty and donations tax, which combined bring in about 1% of tax revenue. However, discussions are now focused on the desirability and feasibility of the following three possible forms of wealth tax — land tax, a national tax on the value of property (over and above municipal rates), and an annual wealth tax.

The article in The Conversation argues that “a wealth tax could play an important role in national healing if it was implemented with the necessary circumspection.” Likewise, an article published on Fin24 highlighted how “Judge Dennis Davis, who heads South Africa’s committee on tax reform, said that he supported a wealth tax as it was an important symbolic step to address inequality, even though it would raise a relatively small amount of revenue to plug the country’s widening budget deficit. He acknowledged that the controversy around corruption and state capture make this an awkward moment to take the step, but added that he could not allow “vast swathes of wealth to be immune to tax”.”

Although his remarks indicate that a wealth tax may soon be on the cards, there is still a lot of debate surrounding the issue and many arguments against it. Notably, it is argued that there are only 7.4 million taxpayers in South Africa who have already been squeezed so much, and many fear it would spur wealth creators to leave the country, which would further weaken the currency and fan inflation. It has also been argued that the introduction of a wealth tax wouldn’t actually address the structural problems that are responsible for the high rates of unemployment and poverty.

Although advocates support their beliefs with examples of economies such as Switzerland, where it has been a success, Fatima Vawda, the Managing Director of 27four Investment Managers, ascertains in an article published by the Daily Maverick, that the strategy has largely been a disaster in many economies where it has been tried.

Vawda also believes that we should rather broaden ownership of capital to ensure broad-based prosperity by using “pragmatic strategies that are aimed at maximising tax revenue… Imposing a wealth tax in a bid to stimulate prosperity should be the last resort.”

The tax committee’s call for public comment on the introduction of a potential wealth tax may have closed, but public hearings are likely to take place. This tax may not ever come to fruition, but it’s important to stay informed and prepare for eventualities in advance. If you are interested in discussing your thoughts on the matter, or learning more about how this development could potentially affect your financial situation, then don’t hesitate to arrange a meeting.

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Enjoy a water-wise holiday period

The Cape water crisis is now a reality of which most people living in South Africa are very aware. Cape Town is preparing for a harsh summer ahead, and the local government attests that it is doing everything in its power to ensure that the Mother City makes it through this challenging time.

Water consumption is currently at 585-million litres of collective usage per day, and must be reduced further, so it is important that all Capetonians do everything they can to help.

Even if you’re not living in the drought-stricken Cape, water is still a precious commodity that no one in the world should take for granted. Even leading water scientists predict that “future wars will be fought over water”. The head of the department of urban water management at UCT, Neil Armitage, explains that “a person needs four to five litres of water a day to survive and we’re using on average 200l per person per day.” It’s clear we need to drastically alter our water usage habits (and mindsets), so that we don’t continue to waste so much.

Water-shedding is now in place and the water supply will be disrupted in some areas during peak usage times (from 05:00 to 09:00, and 17:00 to 21:00). While a crucial measure, it’s natural to still want to enjoy your holidays, while abiding by restrictions. So here are six tips for how to save more water, prepare for any water rationing, and to support the City of Cape Town in its drought interventions.

1. Set up a grey water system
A grey water system allows you to recycle water from the sinks and shower to flush toilets and water the garden. There are a few different systems on the market, which can be set up to catch water from washing machines, dishwashers, dryers, and even sinks. Do also note that it’s important to always wait for a full load before running any dishwashers or washing machines, and consider investing in a machine that allows the rinse water to be reused for the next cycle.

Grey water can be safely used in the garden for irrigation, ensuring that little to no water is wasted. This not only saves gardens, but also saves money. Your sewage bill is based on your incoming water consumption, as opposed to your outgoing water. So, by setting up a grey water system, you will use water twice before sending it back into the municipal system, which will result in you using less and spending less.

It is quite simple to install a system. You will just need to switch to natural, biodegradable products to protect the integrity of the soil; and it’s advisable to use any grey water intended for the garden within 24 hours.

2. Stay informed about water restrictions and inform any guests
The Western Cape is expecting a further two million international tourists during the upcoming summer season, and chances are you may be hosting guests from abroad or from other parts of the country. Or maybe you live in another province and are making the fantastic decision to spend the holidays in the beautiful Cape!

Cape Town has recently launched an initiative called the ‘Save like a local’ campaign, which focuses on juggling local and international tourism with the existing drought interventions. According to an article published on Traveller24, the local government will rely heavily on the tourism sector to spread awareness, and has strategically placed water-saving messages in several languages across the city, including on airport billboards.

It is a good idea to keep informed of any developments by reading the local newspapers or following the Water Shedding Western Cape on Facebook. Not every holiday maker is aware of the current drought, so you may need to let guests know that water wastage is no longer permitted. Make them aware of any house rules you may follow to reduce and reuse water, and support them in making decisions that can benefit the environment that they will be enjoying.

3. Change to a water-saving toilet
Toilet water use can vary significantly, but older toilets can shockingly use up to 26 litres of water with every flush. Ideally, everyone should invest in a high-efficiency toilet that uses less than five litres per flush, but If you can’t afford to install a specially designed water-saving toilet, then consider at least installing a system that flushes grey water. Or simply add a brick or two to the cistern to reduce the amount of water the toilet uses.

Low-flow faucets and shower heads can also reduce water usage by as much as 30%, so it’s worth replacing old faucets and bathroom accessories with low-flow components before the holiday period starts. Put an hour aside to also try to find and fix any leaks, as this will save you water, money and stress once your house is filled with friends and family.

4. Invest in a natural swimming pool
According to a Traveller24 article, “with level 5 water restrictions firmly in place, the City of Cape Town’s Recreation and Parks Department is reducing the number of public swimming pools that will open for business this summer.” Only 12 of the 35 municipal swimming pools will be open during the peak summer season, and these facilities are distributed across the city to ensure equitable access.

With this in mind, if you’re fortunate to have your own swimming pool, consider changing it to a natural pool that doesn’t need any chemicals. Under current water restrictions, topping up of swimming pools is prohibited, so you won’t be able to run the pump if the water level is too low. It is, therefore, essential to buy a pool cover but, if your budget will allow, then changing to a natural pool is an effective way to avoid your pool turning into a swamp.

5. Create a water-wise garden
Prepare your garden for the long, hot summer ahead by planting hardy plants that can withstand drought. It’s also a good idea to replace grass with artificial turf, gravel or decking to save water. As it is no longer permitted to water gardens with municipal water, it is advisable to replace thirsty plants with those that require minimal water to survive.

An indigenous garden will use water efficiently, so start by clearing any invasive plants. These consume excessive amounts of water and compete with local flora, without offering any ecological benefits to the environment. South Africa has a diverse array of indigenous plants to choose from, which are adapted to the climatic conditions and can tolerate long periods of drought.

Landscape experts, Life Green Group, highlight that water is often wasted through inefficient irrigation, so they advise using a drip irrigation system, which delivers very small amounts of water directly to the root system to ensure water is not wasted through run-off or evaporation. Or simply plant a succulent garden, which has very little need for irrigation. Xeriscaping is a landscaping method that was developed in arid areas. A xeriscape is a very low maintenance garden, using a lot of stones and desert-adapted (xerophytic) plants, that will actually die if over-watered.

Also don’t be afraid of using much more mulch. It may be hard to wrap your head around this, but Life Green Group suggest that you leave the leaves in the flowerbed! Rather than forking the beds, use natural mulches, such as wood chips and leaves, to add texture and hold water. Mulch promotes water retention in the soil and helps develop the soil quality, whereas tilling is actually bad for soil biodiversity and root development.

6. Harvest water
Invest in a water tank to harvest rainwater and make the most of any glorious downpours!

A little bit of investment and preparation can make a massive difference in the long run. So follow these simple steps to enjoy a water-wise and stress-free festive season in South Africa.

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A bit about Bitcoin

According to an article published on USA Today, the biggest investing story of 2017 has been the incredible take-off of cryptocurrencies. Although several have risen to prominence over the past year, Bitcoin still remains the most popular. Here is a brief overview about this particular digital alternative currency — the price of which has tripled since the beginning of 2017, surpassing returns seen in many other investments.

1. What is Bitcoin?
Bitcoin started in 2009 and gained popularity as a way of sending money quickly and anonymously anywhere in the world.

As Bitcoin is decentralised, which means there is no government or central bank issuing or regulating it, using this cryptocurrency enables direct, private transactions between users, with virtually no transaction costs.

2. What is Blockchain technology?
It can accomplish the aforementioned tasks because it is powered by Blockchain technology. Simply explained in the article, a blockchain is a “decentralised and distributed ledger that can be accessed by many different parties simultaneously. When a transaction is completed, it is recorded on a “block.” When a block’s memory is full, it is added to the end of the blockchain, always in successive order. It then becomes part of the permanent database of transactions of the blockchain. For the purposes of Bitcoin, the blockchain records transaction details, like the amount and time, but not personal details of the parties involved.”

As transactions don’t need to be linked to a specific identity, but are tracked on this online database, its promise of anonymity has heightened Bitcoin’s appeal.

3. How can you buy Bitcoin?
There are many ways to buy, store and sell bitcoins. One of the most popular means is through a software known as a Bitcoin Wallet, which is a digital wallet used exclusively for bitcoins. Frequently used examples of these are Coinbase and Wirex.

For investors, the easiest way to gain exposure to bitcoins is often through a brokerage. Funds, such as the Bitcoin Investment Trust, were created for this purpose. However, it is important to be aware that shares in this fund (and similar ETFs) trade far above the underlying Bitcoin exposure.

4. Is it a wise investment?
It’s difficult to answer this question as every month there seems to be a new prediction about the future value of Bitcoin. In spite of its recent soar in popularity, which is thought to partly be accredited to increased faith in the legitimacy of cryptocurrencies, Bitcoin has experienced chaotic volatility in the past, and its future still looks uncertain.

There are many sceptics — Warren Buffett called Bitcoin a “mirage” in an interview in 2014, and JPMorgan Chase CEO, Jamie Dimon, said: “If you’re stupid enough to buy it, you’ll pay the price for it one day.” The global chief economist at UBS Wealth Management, Paul Donovan, also argued that cryptocurrencies will never gain universal acceptance as governments don’t accept Bitcoin and never will, as it is a big economic advantage for them to be the monopoly provider of money, so they won’t relinquish that power.

As a result, cryptocurrencies will arguably never be accepted as a medium of exchange for the single biggest transaction in any economy — paying taxes.

However, some analysts still forecast growth for Bitcoin, and the head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, recently stated virtual currencies might end up giving existing currencies a “run for their money.”

Many believe that, if this is the case, it is then disposed for a big correction, which will burst the Bitcoin bubble and send prices plummeting. Given the amazing returns the cryptocurrency market has seen this year, it would be reasonable to assume that prices will not continue to increase forever.

5. What should you be aware of if you do want to invest?
If you do wish to invest in Bitcoin, it is advisable to proceed with caution, and investors should be prepared for things to swing dramatically either way.

As the cryptocurrency exchanges are unregulated, there are potential consequences to consider, such as flash crashes. Cryptocurrencies are known to be extremely volatile, and people who own bitcoins should be prepared to face sudden losses at any time. As a result, it’s advisable to never put any money into virtual currencies that you can’t afford to lose. And if you do still wish to proceed, then it could be a good idea to diversify by buying more than one currency.

As Bitcoin is unregulated and virtual, it’s also important to be aware that any exchange is vulnerable to hacks. Investors have no guarantee that they’ll get their money back if something happens, and there is room for market abuse and illicit transactions.

However, what cannot be denied is that investors who have purchased Bitcoin have done spectacularly well so far. While investing in Bitcoin is not something that financial planners can advocate, as it is unregulated, and it is nearly impossible to accurately gauge its intrinsic value, it is alway advisable to stay well informed about an array of investment options. If you’re still a bit confused about Bitcoin, then don’t hesitate to arrange a meeting to discuss this cryptocurrency further.

Original source

Medical aid considerations

As we begin the run-up to the festive season, sounds of yuletide carols and outdoor concerts will soon fill the air, and you’ll find yourself pondering philosophical questions, such as who exactly likes Christmas pudding and why do we only eat cranberry sauce once a year? With all the merriment, it’s easy to get caught up in advent adventures and forget the more clerical side to the Christmas countdown. For, come the new year, along with all our resolutions to shed our newfound pounds, we will inevitably be faced with an increase in our medical aid schemes.

Some medical schemes have already announced their contribution increases for 2018 and, as of the start of October, Genesis Medical Scheme has the lowest increase at 5.8%, while Medshield has the highest at 10.9%. Before you look aghast, the good news is that Discovery Health and Bonitas Medical Scheme have announced relatively low increases, which will potentially put other schemes under pressure to stay below the 10% mark, even though not all of them will be able to do this. In fact, according to an FA News article, Bonitas announced its lowest increase in six years thanks to robust cost-containment initiatives that have enabled the medical scheme to keep the weighted average contribution in single digits for 2018.

According to a recent article published on Fin24, over the last 16 years, the average yearly increase of medical scheme contributions has been 7.6%. This is a phenomenon that is driven by the high cost of medication, new medical technology, and South Africa’s weakening currency.

South African medical schemes continue to face the challenge of making quality healthcare more affordable and accessible. They are required to focus on balancing costs, while ensuring members continue to receive good benefits. After a challenging year for the healthcare industry, with medical schemes facing escalating healthcare costs, as well as having to comply with the strict parameters of the Medical Schemes Act, increases are unfortunately inevitable. However, although you cannot avoid an increase, it’s important to work out how you will factor this into your budget in the new year. It’s also worth taking the time now to reflect on whether your chosen medical scheme is meeting your requirements.

In times of political instability and economic uncertainty, healthcare costs and claims tend to increase — particularly those regarding anxiety and depression. Sadly, recent studies show that over 17 million people in South Africa are dealing with anxiety disorders, and 1 in 3 of our countrymen are expected to be affected by a mental illness in their lifetime.

When considering a medical scheme, it’s important to review its benefits and programmes, as well as its costs. For example, in light of the aforementioned statistics, does your scheme offer a suitable mental wellness programme? Are there sufficient benefits for your family, as well as benefits that help to encourage positive lifestyle changes and focus on preventive care, such as pap smears for women over 21 and mammograms for women over 40?

Along with fairy lights and tinsel, the increase in medical aid prices will soon be upon us, so take a moment before you get caught up in Christmas crackers to decide how you’re going to reconcile this increase and whether your medical aid scheme is the right one for you. Don’t hesitate to arrange a meeting to discuss your needs and financial capacities.

Bitcoin and other virtual currencies: Investment or gamble?

The purpose of this article is to highlight important aspects that investors must consider as virtual currencies have clearly become the new “flavour of the decade”.

One of the first questions a potential “investor” should answer is, “Why do I want to invest in Bitcoin?” If the real answer is, “I want in on the action and to make a lot of money like everybody else!”, be very careful.

This may be the greedy part, that lies hidden in all of us, driving you towards putting some of your hard-earned money into virtual currency, which may very well have shown spectacular returns up to now. However, before you part with your money, based on past “performance”, consider this statement by Benjamin Graham, author of The Intelligent Investor:

“While a trend shown in the past is a fact, a “future trend’ is only an assumption.”

How many investment schemes, which have all promised extraordinary high returns in the past, have eventually exploded in the faces of people who could least afford it – even recently? How many times do we say after losing our money, “I should have known! When something looks too good to be true, it probably is”? Will history repeat itself as thousands of people, some of them even registered financial advisors, buy into, and express “expert opinions” about investing in virtual currencies such as Bitcoin, Darkcoin, Peercoin and Feathercoin? Again, Benjamin Graham warned:

“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

World famous investor and investment manager, Warren Buffett, thinks coin offerings will end badly. “People get excited from big price movements…,” he said. Buffett remains sceptical, saying: “You can’t value bitcoin because it’s not a value-producing asset.” He added that there’s no telling how far bitcoin’s price will go and described it as a “real bubble in that sort of thing.” [See  this link]

Jacques Plaut, Portfolio Manager, Allan Gray Equity Fund wrote: “We are always looking for good ways to preserve capital and earn returns for clients. We do not think bitcoin is an instrument which will enable us to do this… “I see some similarities with previous bubbles, but all the signs are not yet there.” Neville Chester, manager of Coronation’s Aggressive Equity strategy explained: “Bitcoin generates nothing. It is a speculative investment in that the value of a Bitcoin is determined only by the price someone else will want to pay for it.”

According to National Treasury, the Financial Services Board and the Reserve Bank, while virtual currencies can be bought and sold on various platforms, they are not defined as securities in terms of the Financial Markets Act. Bitcoin and other virtual currencies are not regulated, and Treasury has clearly stated that there are no specific laws or regulations that address the use of virtual currencies and consequently, no legal protection or recourse is afforded to users of virtual currencies.

According to Anton Swanepoel (financial services industry thought leader, speaker and author), “I have seen more than my fair share of hype in the financial services industry over the last 28 years to get very nervous when I hear how many people are buying into these currencies. It is during times like these that Warren Buffett’s advice comes to mind:

‘Be fearful when others are greedy…'”

So – are cryptocurrencies an investment or a gamble? At this point, they are a gamble.

The cappuccino effect

Wednesday, 8th November is National Cappuccino Day in the United States of America. Although this is commonly a time to celebrate the frothy goodness of this popular drink (whose name was interestingly inspired by the colour of the hooded robes of the Capuchin friars in Italy), it’s also an occasion to become aware of our spending habits. We may live a long way from our cousins in the northern hemisphere, but we can all benefit from the same guidelines when it comes to our financial well-being.

In a recent article published by Personal Finance, an investment actuary crunched the numbers to demonstrate how you can boost your wealth significantly in a relatively short period of time, simply by cutting out just one guilty pleasure a day — a cappuccino.

Many people savour the flavour of this power drink each morning, and many caffeine addicts can happily knock back a few in a row. However, calculations show that if you’re willing to give up just one of those daily cappuccinos, you could save nearly R40,000 in five years and over R90,000 in a decade.

With the ominous effects of inflation and the cost of living on the rise in South Africa, it can often seem impossible to save more money without the help of a big bonus or salary increase. However, Hildegard Wilson, a member of the Actuarial Society of South Africa’s investment committee, is quick to ascertain “that you can save without compromising your overall standard of living. With the power of compounding, where growth on your investment earns additional growth, these kinds of ‘breadcrumb’ savings can turn into large amounts over time.”

If you buy a cappuccino from Monday to Friday at an average cost of R25, your coffee habit is costing you roughly R500 a month. If you opt to forego the cappuccinos, you could alternatively commit to investing R500 a month in a multi-asset high-equity unit trust fund. Over the past decade (calculated up until March 2017), high-equity funds have delivered average annual returns of 8.2%. Although this figure offers no guarantee of future performance, if your investment were to achieve an annual average return of 8.2%, you would have just over R37,180 after five years and R93,130 after 10 years.

So, by foregoing just one cappuccino a day, you could generate a significant lump sum, which could make a serious dent in your debts, or top up an education or retirement fund.

Giving up a cappuccino is just one example of how you can make a difference to your savings. This doesn’t mean you can’t do anything if you don’t drink cappuccinos. The idea is to consider giving up certain little luxuries or vices to help you in the long run. Consider which lifestyle changes you are willing to make — particularly if they’re not good for your health anyway, like smoking — and start taking the small steps towards achieving big financial goals.

5 tips to preparing your business for December leave

December is often the busiest time of year for businesses, and the season comes with increasing demands for both employers and employees. It is also the time of year when many South Africans take the opportunity to take a well deserved break. However, as exciting (and much needed) a holiday may be, this does often create added pressure — both personally and professionally speaking — and many people find it difficult to juggle all their commitments.

As overwhelming as it can sometimes seem, it’s important to try to stay ahead of the competition during this time and to not let your work fall into disarray after your break. In order to prepare yourself and your business for your leave, and avoid any unnecessary stress when you return in the new year, here are five tips, published on Small Business Trends, that can help you get everything in order before the kids finish at school and Christmas is upon us.

1. Track your workload
Your success as an employer or employee this holiday season will depend on whether you’re still able to provide your customers or clients with what they want, when they want it. It is, therefore, important to stay one step ahead and plan adequately in advance. This may involve starting with an inventory list if you sell a product, or a to-do list if you sell a service.

Take a look at last year’s sales to see which products were most popular, or gauge how much you will need to do by looking back at the previous year’s records. That way, you will have a good idea of what stock or work is generally in high demand during this period, which will help you to budget your expenses and time. And if files or figures don’t give you a sufficient idea, put a plan in place to track sales and workflow this year so that you can be better prepared next November.

2. Minimise back-office work
Everyone is busy at this time of year, and managing the back-end of a business can easily fall to the wayside — especially if you have customers making urgent appeals that can’t be avoided.

Luckily, we now have a variety of technology at our fingertips, which can ease the burden of doing tasks such as billing, accounting, collecting customer data, and automating business transactions. If possible, make the most of these advancements to save yourself a lot of time and effort. A little investment in certain areas can make your business life much more efficient and profitable in the long run.

3. Stay on top of expenses
The pace at work may have stepped up a notch, which can make it challenging to stay up-to-date with daily tasks (at a time when you need to stay on top of things more than ever). This can, unfortunately, result in spending even more time than usual trying to reconcile checks and balance sheets when you finally do have the chance to get around to cranking the numbers.

However, it’s important to stay on top of expenses, as tempting as it may be to put this off for a later date. There should be no Rand unaccounted for at the end of the season as otherwise, by the time the new year rolls around, you’ll have forgotten the nitty gritty and find yourself wasting time working backwards. If you are having trouble keeping abreast on your own, certain products, such as the Ink app from Chase, can eliminate office drudgery by giving instant notifications of sales and purchases, and tracking receipts so that they’re not lost in the end-of-year hustle.

4. Develop a marketing strategy
Along with bright lights and Christmas carols, endless marketing gimmicks are also used during the festive season to entice customers. Try to stand out from the crowd during this period by offering promotions that are specific to your products or services.

If you have a robust contact directory, e-mail marketing can have a high conversion rate and be an effective means of making people aware of any special loyalty offers. Social media is also a useful tool, and it’s worth paying for promotion on some platforms. Ad campaigns through a search engine, such as Google, can be effective, and don’t be shy of offering in-store promotions if you have an actual shop.

Whatever you choose to do, don’t forget to gather customer data so that you can make people aware of future offers. It’s important to build an email list and a customer base, so a promotion that offers a discount for an email address can be a valuable exchange.

5. Maintain momentum
If you prepare in advance and manage your workload efficiently in the run-up to the holidays, then you’ll hopefully have less on your desk to contend with when you get back. Organisation, proper tracking and planned strategies are key, so that you can enjoy your leave and hit the ground running when you come back fresh in 2018.

If you ever find yourself at a loss and in need of advice, don’t hesitate to arrange a meeting to discuss how you can prepare yourself for the future.

Saving money for Christmas

“Have yourself a merry little Christmas, let your heart be light. From now on, all our troubles will be out of sight.” — Frank Sinatra

In the wise words of Sinatra, make sure your Christmas is as stress-free as possible so that you can focus on and enjoy the important things that the festive season brings, such as spending time with family and friends.

It’s easy to get carried away in the consumerist whirlwind of the silly season and find yourself in unnecessary debt in the new year. It’s also sometimes challenging to pay for Christmas expenditure with December’s pay packet alone, so it makes sense to save up as much as you can beforehand. Christmas may still seem like weeks away, but it’ll come around faster than you can sing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, so it’s best to start saving as soon as you can.

There is a trend for South Africans to spend far more on their credit cards over the month of December than during other months of the year. However, it’s advisable to try to avoid borrowing money for the holiday season, as this may come with interest and fees that could set you back on achieving your financial goals and responsibilities in the new year. So here are four handy steps, published on The Money Advice Service, that will help you to save in the countdown to Christmas.

1. Set a budget
First things first, set yourself a realistic budget that includes food, presents, travel, decorations, and general festivities with friends. If need be, curb your enthusiasm in some areas — it could be worth sacrificing one night at a restaurant to be able to splash out a bit more on a loved one or some Christmas day aperitifs.

To begin on your budget, make a list of who you want to buy presents for, and allocate an amount for each person. If you are hosting Christmas lunch, then get confirmation for how many people will be coming over so that you can work out how much you will need to spend on food and drink. If you are tight on cash, consider sharing duties — so one person brings dessert, while another is in charge of salad.

2. Work out how much to save each week
Treat saving for Christmas in the same way as you would put money aside to pay a bill. By committing to saving a regular and manageable amount each week from now on, you’re far more likely to set yourself up for a Christmas win.

Start small if need be, by placing just R10 of loose change in a jar a day, or a R100 note each week. And, if that works, try putting aside a bit more from the start of December.

3. Start some new, affordable traditions
Consumer confidence in South Africa is currently quite low due to many financial pressures, such as elevated inflation, weak economic growth, a rise in interest rates, and an unstable political environment. However, many people still feel under pressure to please loved ones at this time of year, and to especially give children the “perfect Christmas”. This causes people to overspend and lose sight of the spirit of the season, which is to love our fellow man and spread goodwill.

Consider starting some new Christmas traditions that the whole family can do together. These may not only save you money, but will also help you to shift the focus to what Christmas is really about.

Get creative and make your own decorations, crackers or even presents. Offer sentimental gifts that may not cost much, but are highly valuable to the receiver because of what they represent. It’s also worth deciding as soon as possible on what you want to buy someone. Shopping for items in advance can help to spread the cost and save you from panic-buying goods just for the sake of it. A bit of planning may also enable you to find second-hand gifts that are as good as new and would still be adored.

Furthermore, it’s worth embracing the digital age and emailing Christmas messages to save on cards and postage costs. There are lots of free websites nowadays on which you create your own personalised cards, which are environmentally friendly, as well as affordable.

4. Put your savings in a safe place
If you’re only in a position to save a small amount each week, then it may be best to simply store it in a jar or tin in a secret spot. However, if you’re saving an amount that will quickly become a tidy sum, then it’s worth transferring the money on a weekly basis into an instant-access savings account if you have one. Try to see this as a separate savings pot specifically for the festive season, and be strict with yourself by only dipping into it if it’s for something Christmas-related.

While the December holiday period is a great time to simply enjoy life with family and friends, make sure that you don’t stretch your spending beyond what you are able to pay back. Follow these basic steps and don’t hesitate to arrange a meeting to discuss any financial queries or worries you have. Then have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

The 10% rule — An all-round financial workout

You may be familiar with the 10% savings rule.The idea is that, as soon as you are financially independent, you should save approximately 10% of your income for retirement, and it is a general guideline that gives you a starting point for your savings early on in life. If you consistently save 10% of everything you make from your early 20s, you should be all set for a happy and healthy retirement.

However, you may need to go the extra stretch if you only start giving serious thought to your retirement later in life. Everyone’s financial situation is different and has its own considerations, depending on age, income, family obligations, and lifestyle choices. The 10% savings rule may not apply to everyone, but saving 10% of your salary, or any amount regularly, is certainly better than nothing.

If you’re unable to save 10% of your income, don’t be discouraged — the important thing is to set a savings goal that you can achieve. You can always increase this amount when you are in a position to do so. Alternatively, if you have a luxury lifestyle and have always been used to earning a healthy wage to support it, then you may want to consider saving much more than 10% of your income to maintain your way of life.

However, there are also different options, such as downsizing or changing some of your spending habits after retirement instead. These are all aspects that can be discussed in a meeting, so that you can weigh up your priorities and make decisions for your future accordingly.

In many cases, it can take around 90% of your energy and income to make ends meet, and the last 10% is where you can build your wealth. Think of it like doing exercise — the first 90% is just the warm-up and the last 10% is where the real workout happens for you to make progress.

Some people argue that this 10% is not just about savings, but it’s also a question of how you apply your energy. If you want to go the extra mile in achieving financial success, you may want to use your last 10% of energy each day to improve your financial intelligence and control expenses. Basically, accumulating wealth requires putting in that extra 10% of hard work that takes us past just being comfortable. You may not want to spend your evening after a day at the office reading investment strategy articles or fixing the leaky faucet to keep expenses down, but these are the type of small contributions that will accumulate towards your future financial freedom.

The principle is that wealth is built at the margin, and most people can only dedicate 10% of their hours towards their financial freedom. But by reviewing how much of your effort is spent maintaining current lifestyle needs versus achieving your future financial goals, you can look to refocus your energy where possible. The higher the percentage of time that you can dedicate towards your financial freedom, the bigger the impact on your future. A series of incremental changes can multiply your gain, thereby creating financial success at the margin.

If you want to discuss how you can best make small changes and save for your future, do not hesitate to arrange a meeting for some personal training to help you get on track. Think of it like starting a work-out regime — you just need an appropriate fitness programme to guide you towards good financial health.