The best place to invest

Somehow, despite all the messages to be kinder to ourselves, we have this predisposition to put ourselves down. Along the line, the early messages of “You can do better” become “You’re not good enough.”

We live in an age where the focus is on self. As we scroll through social media, we see countless selfies, all the time hoping to find a like, mention or comment on one of our own posts. Slowly, we begin to see our lives through the lens of everyone else. Some people call this the ego; it’s not who we really are. But this is how we show up every day, and it influences every decision we make and every cent we spend.

In the bestselling book “Eat, Pray, Love”, author Elizabeth Gilbert recounts when she walked into a building in New York City. She was hurrying toward the elevator when she caught a glimpse of herself in a mirror. She didn’t immediately recognize herself. Instead, she thought: “Oh, look! I know her. She’s my friend.”

As Gilbert moved toward her reflection with a smile, ready to hug this person, she realized that she was looking at herself. Later, as she remembered this incident, she was journaling and wrote the following at the bottom of the page:

“Never forget that once upon a time, in an unguarded moment, you recognized yourself as a friend.”

This is a wonderful first step in reminding ourselves that we are good enough and worthy of investment. Ultimately, it’s the best place to invest.

Investing in yourself is an integrated and ongoing practice. It’s not just about mental, physical, emotional or financial kindness; it’s about all of them in a healthy balance. In one sentence, one might say: Spend some money on yourself to do what you want to do to feel better and think happier.

Everyone has a different budget and a different lifestyle, so for one person, it might look like a spa day at a luxury resort; for another, it might be a quiet cup of coffee whilst reading a book for an hour at your local deli. Perhaps it’s going to a movie by yourself or taking a drive along the coast with your family. When you recognize yourself as a friend, you’ll be more willing to invest in yourself.

Whilst these are smaller, day-to-day ideas, you can also invest in yourself by starting a business and believing that you have what it takes to provide your own income. You can also ensure that your medical cover is in place to get great medical care when you need it. As you review your medical cover, you can add other products like GAP, income protection and dread disease benefits.

These are all powerful ways to invest in your best asset: you!

Can you change how you feel about money?

Here’s the quick answer: yes!

That’s the easy part. The challenge lies in the next question: How do I change how I feel about money?

There are plenty of books, blogs, podcasts and short courses on how to change how to manage your money better and change how you budget, spend, save and invest. But many people, despite all these resources, still feel stuck and unable to change how they feel about money.

In “Mind over Mood” (Greenberger & Pedesky), they say that the key to changing how we feel about something lies in finding the connection between our thoughts and how they influence our moods and behaviours.

“Most people who are anxious, depressed, or angry can tell you that “just thinking positive thoughts” is not that easy [ … ] Looking at a situation from all sides and considering a wide range of information – positive, negative, and neutral – can lead to more helpful ways of understanding things and new solutions to difficulties you face.”

When it comes to our money-mood swings, attaching thoughts to our moods is a valuable exercise. Identifying what we think about money (influenced by our parents, peers and personal experiences) is the first positive step to changing how we feel about money.

In his book “Overcoming Depression and Low Mood”, Chris Williams suggests that the next step should be setting yourself small, achievable steps to maintain the momentum of change.

“You can’t expect to be able to swim immediately. You may need to start at the shallow end and practice at first. Pace what you do and don’t jump straight away into the deep end.”

These small steps could start with cash flow management, or perhaps you need to start talking to your family and loved ones about what you’re thinking and feeling about your financial situation. Connecting your thoughts and emotions is helpful, but connecting with people you love lets you feel protected, safe, physically comforted and soothed, and connected to others. 

When we feel isolated or alone, these emotions can cloud and clutter how we feel about our money, leaving us feeling overwhelmed and anxious. We then attach these feelings to how we feel about our money and how we think about our financial situation. This leads us to make unhealthy financial decisions and, in turn, keeps us stuck in our feelings about our money.

If you’ve been struggling with anxiety or depression around your finances, you’re not alone. Changing our thoughts and creating new habits are powerful in improving how we feel. Talk with people you trust and ask for help.

Levels of financial dependence

At the very surface level of constructing a financial plan, the journey can feel linear. We begin with what we have and plan to move towards an end goal of ‘having enough’ and being financially independent. But this is not where financial planning ends; it’s just the toe-dipping beginning as we gain courage and confidence to engage more with our financial planning.

It feels linear because financial independence has always been closely associated with retirement, and retirement has been seen as our final epoch. There are not simply two stages of financial dependence; there are several, and we don’t necessarily go through them all, neither do we all end up fully financially independent.

Life is a little like snakes and ladders – we can be moving forward (upward) on our chosen path until illness, divorce, or retrenchment changes our financial dependence status. Or we may have a windfall or unexpected success that boosts us up several spaces in our plan.

The importance is not in sticking to the linear journey but in creating check-in points to mitigate stress and measure success according to our personal milestones. 

This gives us the freedom to make choices that might move us up or down a level in our financial dependence – like extending our bond to buy a larger house, or turning down a better job offer to spend more time with our family.

Understanding different levels of financial dependence helps us with the framework of our financial plan.

Dependence is where many of us start. At this level, our lifestyle depends on others for financial support. Support from parents, needing to spend more than we earn, or if our debt payments (credit cards, personal loans, student debt) exceed our income, are all common at this level.

Solvency is the ability to meet our financial commitments. We reach this level when our income exceeds our expenses and when we are no longer accumulating debt. We are fully able to support ourselves with our income.

Stability is a stage of financial dependence where we have no credit card or personal loans, have established an emergency fund, and are growing our asset base.

If we can keep growing our wealth, we will start to have free agency, meaning that we can work and live how and where we want. Typically, we will have eliminated all debt (including property loans), and have enough savings and invested assets to have the confidence to quit our job at a moment’s notice.

After this point, we now have a certain level of financial independence. We have financial security when our investment income can cover basic needs for the rest of our life. It’s not about luxury or comfort; it’s about financial security to have all the basics covered.

Full financial independence is a stage in life where we can fund our chosen standard of living for the rest of our lives. You can afford the basics and some comforts too. This is what many term as “having enough”.

Abundance is a rare stage where we have enough — and then some. We can share our wealth with others or indulge in luxury.

Remember, these are levels of financial dependence and not levels of happiness or peace of mind! They are purely a helpful way to frame where we are on our financial journey but do not make our journey wrong or right, or complete or incomplete.

Learning leverages healthy decisions (1/3)

A curriculum doesn’t drive learning; curiosity drives learning.

When we consider the learning pattern of those who are outside of schooling systems, it’s curiosity that drives their learning, not the prescribed milestones of an education system. From Google to TED, from books to stories passed down from our elders, learning is more about readiness than reached milestones.

When our learning is stifled, forced or limited by a curriculum, we can become frustrated and suppress our yearning to learn something new. This is an unhealthy state in which to slip.

When we learn something new, we exercise our brain, improving cognitive functions such as concentration, attention to detail, memory recall, and problem-solving. 

We become interested in more, and we become more interesting! Adopting this mindset creates fertile ground for healthy decision-making in life, relationships and our finances.

Sahil Bloom, from The Curiosity Chronicle, recently shared a collection of awesome ways to expand our curiosity and become lifelong learners.

Build a learning engine

The “learning engine” is at the core of every lifelong learner. Essentially, it comprises all the knowledge sources that we regularly consume. These could be books, audiobooks, newsletters, podcasts, TED talks, documentaries, blogs… you name it! And, in the last two decades, the internet has opened access to it all.

Avoid noise bottlenecks

Consuming more information does not always equate to knowing more. As you consume more data, you may find the noise-to-signal ratio increases – we call this a noise bottleneck. It slows down our ability to assimilate what we’re learning. 

We should consume less, but consume intelligently.

Embrace all styles and levels of learning

There are different types of learning, and there are different levels of learning. Four common learning types identified early on in children are visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and reading/writing. 

Most people are a combination of these four styles, but more times than not, we have a preferred learning style. Trying to explore different ways to consume and assimilate information keeps our brains and bodies healthy and helps us move from surface learning (which is quick and easy) to deep learning (which takes more time to mature).

Seek mentors and coaches

Two big challenges to learning are blindspots and the lack of accountability. Coaches and mentors provide a trusted sounding board and hold the space in our lives to spur us on when we’ve been sitting still for too long.

Embrace Failures

As Thomas Edison once said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Lifelong learners recognize that failures are learning opportunities. They don’t fear them; they embrace them. Failure is not easy, and this is why when we persevere, we grow in strength, skill and knowledge.

Follow Your Curiosity

When you have a spark of curiosity, follow it. From preparing and eating healthier meals to discovering how you can steadily move from living in debt to living in surplus. From learning a new skill or adopting a hobby to expanding your knowledge of how your body, mind, and emotions work, be willing to go on that journey wherever your curiosity drives you.

When our minds are clear, focussed and fit, we can make better decisions. We can see our current situation more clearly and identify the future that we’d like to create.

Charge what you’re worth

“How much should I be charging my clients?”

This is a common question as we work with an increasing number of people setting up their own businesses. In the wake of a radical economic downturn, our creativity and necessity to generate an income spark new business ideas. The entrepreneurial spirit begins to take centre stage in the micro economy, and we have an awesome opportunity to create value for others.

And this is how we answer the question. Because it’s not about the fees, it’s about the value.

In our own industry, we’ve learnt that our fees should be linked to our value proposition. Whether you’re talking about products or professional services, there needs to be some benefit or value to the end-user. This benefit is measured by the difference that the product or service provider will make for the consumer.

It sounds like a simple formula, but it can get fairly complex. We need to consider factors like experience, expertise and the need for the product or service that we’re providing.

There’s an old story of Pablo Picasso, who, at the height of his fame and influence as an artist, was asked by a fan to sketch something for him. This happened when Picasso was out for dinner at a restaurant. 

The fan gave Picasso a napkin to sketch on and said he would pay for the sketch. In fact, he supposedly said to Picasso, “Name your price.” Picasso took a charcoal pencil from his pocket and quickly drew the image of a goat.

He then said to the fan, “That’ll be $100 000.” The fan was astounded, saying, “But that only took you 30 seconds to draw.” Picasso then crumpled up the napkin and stuffed it into his jacket pocket. “You are wrong,” he said. “It took me 40 years.”

Another way of looking at this concept is to remind yourself that it’s not the hour you spend in that meeting with your client; it’s the years of experience you bring to that hour. Or, it’s not the price tag of the widget you’re selling; it’s the hours of frustration it will save your customer – or the hours of joy it will bring them!

When you start a new business, you will have a learning curve where you will need to adjust price, service, experience – all of it, but remember that it all starts with confidence in your value. It starts with being confident to charge what you believe you’re worth. Price influences our perception of value. Experience confirms it.

As a rule of thumb, always start higher. It’s easier to negotiate down than to negotiate up, and, if you need to, you can always walk away if they aren’t willing to pay you what you’re worth.

What happens to our passwords when we pass?

Estate planning, wills and final testaments are not easy processes to navigate. Setting up life cover and considering what will happen to your family when you pass away can be deeply emotional and an experience many would rather avoid.

But as technology helps us create farewell videos, family portfolio galleries and digital vaults, it has made the experience a little less technical and considerably more emotionally engaging and fulfilling. 

However – we often plan for the event of our death alone. What if you and your partner pass together or in quick succession? Not only will your dependants need to charter the unknown territory of your physical assets and financial policies, but they will also need to deal with your digital assets and online accounts.

From online banking and social media to online shopping and digital subscriptions, most of us have anywhere between five and forty active accounts that will need to be closed, cancelled or managed in our passing.

And, all of these require passwords.

If you haven’t addressed this before, you can start today with a simple spreadsheet or table. You can print it out or set it up on your device, whichever makes more sense to you.

There are loads of apps (some free, some not) that can help you do this, but let’s take a look at a basic framework that covers the essentials and gets your thoughts aligned with what might happen to your passwords when you pass.

Set out four columns under the following headers:

  1. Account (Facebook/National Bank/Netflix)
  2. URL (this is the website address or link that you use to access your account)
  3. Username
  4. Password

You can always add more columns as you use the list a little more, these could include headers like:

  1. Renewal date
  2. Renewal/Monthly/Annual fees
  3. ID number or personal identifying code for that supplier
  4. Email (that is linked to that account)

You could also create groups for the different accounts to make it easier to update and work with going forward. Group categories would also make it easier for your partner or kids to find the relevant accounts easily.

These categories could be things like:

  1. Email accounts
  2. Banking
  3. Business accounts
  4. Internet/Cellphones
  5. Entertainment
  6. Social Media
  7. Online Shopping

Our digital assets are still a very new area of estate planning that have not been fully explored, but if you have some good ideas on how you’d like your social media profiles to be treated or specific messages that you would like broadcast, these can be included in your planning.

But – almost all of these wishes depend on someone having access on your behalf; and for that they will need the four columns of the sheet that you’re about to set up! If you have more than ten accounts – just do ten today, and another ten tomorrow and another ten the day after until you’ve worked through everything. This will make it manageable and achievable.

Six areas of financial planning

Have you ever gone down the #Fintwit rabbit hole? According to fintwit.ai, #Fintwit is a vibrant community of investors on Twitter, who tweet trading ideas, active trades, personal portfolios and well thought out insights about financial securities. Millions of investors around the world are increasingly using Twitter to stay abreast of the financial market and make informed investment decisions.

This financially savvy community is almost as popular as the #BTC (bitcoin) and #crypto communities who are determined to be the next billionaires from investing in cryptocurrencies. They create boundless content on how to best the systems and one could easily spend days scrolling through all of the tweets.

The challenge with these strongly supported content-creating communities is that they have enormous influence and create the perception that investment planning and management is the main (or only) focus of financial planning. The reality is that investing is just one area of about six.

Financial planning is more about managing behaviour than managing money. This is why the first area is cash flow management.

CASH FLOW MANAGEMENT

Some people refer to this as budgeting or a spending tracker. Ultimately, the goal is to have an enlightened conversation about where your money is going every month. Once we know that, we can plan how we can protect your assets and grow your assets.

RISK MANAGEMENT & PLANNING

From a financial perspective, we typically look at the different assets that need protecting; from your personal health to your income, accumulated savings and investments, this is a list that will keep changing throughout your life. Risk planning falls into two categories – your short term and long term risks. 

INVESTMENT PLANNING

Your accumulated savings are great for emergency funds and rainy-day savings, but for long term growth with the benefit of serious compounding interest, we need to plan on how you invest your wealth. This is all about growing your wealth and allowing your money to work for you. This is where the #Fintwit bunch are always abuzz with ideas – but at the end of the day, you need a person who you can trust and lean on to keep you committed to your investment plan.

TAX PLANNING STRATEGIES

As your wealth grows, your tax liabilities will increase. Optimising your portfolio becomes a necessary discussion in order to reduce the amount of money you will have to pay to The Man. There are loads of strategies to legally protect and grow your wealth without eroding it to tax.

RETIREMENT PLANNING

In a nutshell – this is a sum of money that will help you rely less on income generation later in life. It doesn’t mean you have to stop working, or stop adding value – it just means that you are working to create more freedom for yourself so that you don’t have to work every day in order to pay your monthly bills and finance the lifestyle that you’d like to live.

ESTATE PLANNING

All of this asset building, combined with your risk portfolio, creates value in your personal estate. It doesn’t have to be millions; whatever you’ve built will be taxed when you pass away. To plan for this and reduce that tax liability and associated fees, estate planning ensures that your loved ones will have access to most of what you’ve been able to provide for them.

These are the most common areas of financial planning: cash flow management, risk management, investment planning, taxing planning, retirement and estate planning. They create the starting blocks for our conversations to help you manage your behaviour to ultimately manage your money better.

Ready to be more resilient?

We can’t change what happens to us, but we can change how we respond to what happens to us, and within us.

Everything ages, but not everything ages well. Some things can wither from the inside out if they do not have a well-developed resilience. Resilience is the ability to bounce back and withstand stressors. It is to have the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties.

For us, resilience is something that we need to work on actively. If we were lucky to have a loving environment to grow up in, we would have a certain amount of resilience from an early age. However, as soon as our communities begin to find ways to disqualify, exclude, challenge and limit us, our resilience will be challenged and reduced.

This is why we need to work on our resilience.

Resilience is linked to our sense of, or connectedness to, our wholeness. Building resilience means that we need to embrace all sides of ourselves (even the warty ones!). Connecting with the heart is at the core of finding and creating inner wholeness.

As Dr Rosenberg, a clinical psychologist, writes, “We are compassionate with ourselves when we are able to embrace all parts of ourselves and recognize the needs and values expressed by each part. Practicing self-compassion involves learning how to firstly practice self-care and secondly learning how to love yourself.”

This is also crucial in building financial resilience. Suppose we aren’t able to question and investigate how we feel about money. In that case, we will not succeed in promoting healthy habits, supporting a positive self-image, and fortifying resilient relationships.

On the lonerwolf.com website, they put it like this:

Wholeness and holiness are connected. Holy comes from the Old English word hālig, which means “whole, healthy, entire, and complete.” So to be whole means to be holy. Wholeness is holiness – and this is why when we have a direct experience of our wholeness it tends to feel like a mystical experience of awe, gratitude, love, and reverie.

But it’s not something reserved for mystics and people on lonely mountaintops. 

Wholeness, self-compassion, inner strength, confidence — resilience — are available to all of us. When we show up every day, helping to bring love and value to those around us, we can be resilient. When we make plans for our future and are forced to change those plans due to unforeseen changes, we can be resilient.

When we support our family through tough times or provide a safety net for our children, partners, or parents, we can be resilient.

It all begins with being kinder to ourselves; this is how we bounce back stronger.

The higher the fee, the better the value?

How do you decide on the better of two products you are not really familiar with or can’t visually tell the difference?

For example – I had to buy a new cellphone charger the other day, and there were two options – one was two-thirds the price of the other, but both were reasonably priced (according to my limited experience of buying chargers!).

I went with the more expensive one because the price tag convinced me that it would be the better choice. If I knew the industry, I would probably know that they were both made in the same factory in some far-off land – but the higher price convinced me of higher value.

You’d probably do the same. It’s the same with buying a car, paying for food at a restaurant, purchasing new shoes and just about everything else that we pay for. Price skews our perception of value.

It’s also the same for investment fees. Sometimes we can assume that the higher the fee, the better the return.

But – as we can see in the graph above, this is not the case for long-term investment strategies. Over time, fees can erode over 60% of our final portfolio value. That’s why, when it comes to hard and fast rules for fees and certainty in investing – they simply don’t exist.

However, we can say that in most cases, lower fees lead to higher returns.

As Occam Investing wrote in a recent blog, “There are no such things as laws in investing.”

When it comes to markets, we can never share the same level of certainty as we do in Newton’s laws of motion.

Trying to prove something in investing is like Newton trying to prove gravity exists in a world where sometimes things are pulled towards each other, sometimes they aren’t, sometimes the opposite happens, and sometimes something invisible comes out of nowhere and throws everything around a bit.

To make matters even more difficult, the environment in which we’re operating is always changing. Newton was able to prove gravity existed because the laws of physics never changed – he was able to run experiments while keeping everything else constant. But markets are always changing.

Investors can never really be sure of anything – we’re left to make the best of unprovable theories and confidence levels while navigating an environment in constant flux. But no matter how much changes in markets, no matter how many theories you choose to place confidence in, one thing will remain true regardless of approach.

All else equal, lower fees will result in better performance.

And although all else isn’t always equal, both the theory and the evidence show that the best and most consistent way to increase returns is to reduce fees.

This is a powerful conclusion for investors. While so much of what happens during our investing lifetime is outside our control, how much we pay for our investments is very much inside our control.

Given that the amount paid in fees is a great predictor of performance in investing, focussing on reducing fees is the most reliable way investors have to increase their odds of investing successfully.

If you’d like to read more of the technical analysis of this conclusion from Occam Investing in the UK, you can click here.

Making mindfulness easier

Anything in life that is truly worth doing – is not easy. It is easy to forget this when we see others doing really well and making the difficult seem like a cinch. We don’t see all the hard work that goes into the background.

But in our own areas of expertise, we have had to start from level zero and apply ourselves over time to gain the knowledge and experience akin to being proficient.

When it comes to mindfulness, a key practice for our mental health, it feels like it’s something that should come naturally. All we need to do is focus our attention on the present moment, and we will be able to get it right. Mindfulness has been proven to calm the mind, ground the body, and increase overall well-being and good health, scientifically and spiritually.

We understand that it’s worth doing, but in practice, it’s not that easy. We get distracted, our thoughts run all over the show, and before we know it, we’re no longer practising mindfulness.

Mindfulness is an incredible tool to help us make better decisions around our finances, relationships, career and extracts more enjoyment and fulfilment from the activities that we love so much.

Here are a few ideas that we can all work on, gradually and steadily, to grow our mastery of mindfulness and make this journey a little easier.

DO EVERYTHING SLOWLY

Consciously slow down. Walk slowly, drink slowly, sit slowly, breathe slowly, talk slowly, move your body slowly — practice slowing down your natural tendency to rush everything. When we wake up to an alarm clock, judge our travel time by traffic flows, set meetings for productive hours in the day, watch the clock during dinners and keep trying to get to bed earlier, we’re living by the clock. And this will always leave us feeling rushed.

Slowing down helps us break the grip of ‘always feeling rushed’ and helps us focus on what we’re doing right now. When you slow your breathing – you’re focused on the air going in and going out. You’re probably doing it right now as you read this – and that’s a super start! You’re already more mindful.

Whenever your world starts to spin a little too fast, witness your breath and feel yourself begin to slow down.

LET EATING BECOME A SENSORY EXPLOSION

There’s a moment in the 2007 Disney movie, Ratatouille, where Remy and Emile taste some cheese that was struck by lighting. Visually, as Remy takes a bite, we see the background fade into a fireworks display, and his face shows the visceral delight in this new taste experience.

When we want to improve our mindfulness muscles, we can do it with every meal and snack during the day. As we slow those down (not eating on the run…), we can experience more of the flavour, texture and benefits of what we are putting in our bodies.

SPEND MORE TIME IN NATURE

We’ve said it many times in our blogs, spending time in nature is healing and helpful on so many levels. It boosts happy-hormones, improves our air intake, stimulates creativity and reduces emotional tension. But – it also makes mindfulness easier.

Living indoors all day tends to restrict the mind immensely. By going outside, we open our minds to experiencing more expansion and relaxation.

If we’re walking a little slower (let’s assume we’re not trying to get our lifestyle-plan points!), we will be able to commit to watching, smelling and hearing whatever comes into our field of stimulation. Experts say that doing this for at least half an hour a day is all we need to begin making mindfulness easier.

We can work on mindfulness of sounds, smells, flavors, feelings/textures, and what we see and start small. Focus on one mindfulness exercise and commit time to it each day. As this becomes easier, you can journal your experiences (this enhances mindfulness of a recent experience) and reflect on what you’ve learned or how you’ve changed. Be kind to yourself and have some fun with it!