Advisors warn against cutting marketing budgets at the risk of plunging into obscurity. However, that spend should deliver a decent return on investment (ROI).
Giving into Facebook’s prompts to boost a post might seem harmless, but it’s an easy way to burn through cash.
Not targeting ads effectively is akin to pouring good money down the drain. Determine who your ideal customer is, which media they consume and when they’re most likely to buy. Then tailor your ads accordingly.
Have a plan and a budget and stick to them.
Efficiencies are the holy grail in business – doing the same thing (or better) for less money. Yet, some are less obvious than others.
Improving employee welfare and workplace culture can reduce staff turnover – saving on recruitment, training and exit payouts while stemming the loss of skills, experience and intellectual property.
Don’t confuse busyness with productivity: teams should work on revenue-driving activities, not administration. Look for ways to simplify operations, freeing staff to work on core tasks.
Avoid sacrificing existing clients for new ones. It’s more expensive to attract new customers than to give existing ones more attention and value.
Automate inventory control and staff rosters to reduce errors. Running out of stock or being short-staffed ultimately means lost sales.
Streamline business finances and develop strong financial foundations. Invoicing promptly means money coming in sooner, while paying bills and taxes on-time eliminates interest and penalties.
“Prevention is better than cure” typically applies to health, but the same goes in business.
Review your risk mitigation strategies and stress test them for weaknesses. Risk mitigation includes:
insurance against business interruption and loss/damage/theft
contingency plans for key staff absences
automatic back-ups of essential software and data
security protocols, password management and staff cyber training to avoid fraud and hacks
work-from-home capabilities should staff be unable to attend the business premises (as COVID-19 has demonstrated)
Insurances and staff hours spent on these are up-front costs, but they’ll save big bucks should disaster strike.
4. Misplaced cost-cutting
Why slash the stationery budget only to blow those savings elsewhere? It sounds silly, yet many businesses fall into this trap. It’s important to deliver real savings.
For instance, stop paying rent on unused space – downsize to smaller premises or sub-let surplus space to subsidise the cost.
Upskill employees in revenue-generating activities to boost income, rather than fire them and face hefty exit payouts.
Don’t overlook taxes when looking for cost savings. Claim legitimate depreciation of business fit-outs, office furniture, vehicles and equipment. Update vehicle logbooks to claim eligible mileage allowances. Apply for relevant tax concessions and COVID stimulus.
“It’s cheaper to do it myself”, many business leaders claim. But are you sacrificing your ability to earn more in the process?
Outsourcing could involve delegating tasks to new or existing employees, hiring contractors or implementing new technologies.
6. Buying power
Consider how to get the best value for your money.
Interest rates are at record lows, making money cheaper to borrow to upgrade equipment or expand. Refinancing debts could also slash repayments. However, plan your finance needs ahead of time – cash flow quick-fixes like short-term loans typically cost more.
Could you buy the business premises in a self-managed super fund (SMSF)? That way, your retirement fund receives the rent rather than a third-party.
And avoid the “lazy tax”: annually reviewing subscriptions, utilities, loans and insurances can net substantial savings. Often, you don’t even need to change providers – just ask for a better rate or get them to price-match a competitor!
Helen Baker is a licensed Australian financial adviser and author of – On Your Own Two Feet Steady Steps to Women’s Financial Independence. Helen is among the 1% of financial planners who hold a master’s degree in the field.
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Who among us isn’t ready to bid good riddance to the year 2020? The pandemic has upended life across the globe and that includes creating financial chaos and stress for people of all walks of life. The good news is that 2021 is just around the corner. The bad news is that there will be pandemic fallout to deal with in the year ahead, and that could mean a continued rocky ride for your personal finances.
That doesn’t mean postponing or eliminating financial plans and goals altogether. And it doesn’t mean 2021 will be a bust. Instead, you’ll need to be more focused, savvy, and strategic about money goals in the coming year, which is why we asked financial experts across the country to weigh in and provide tips and insights about how to prosper financially in 2021 despite all the uncertainties that lie ahead.
In times of uncertainty, it’s a good idea to create what’s known as a rolling budget, which is a budget that’s dynamic and changes throughout the year. This type of budget typically focuses on the near term, rather than the long term.
“You can’t always foresee every stumbling block in your financial future, so make sure to keep your budget bendable, not only judging the numbers you see at the moment but also make room for the surprises,” says Roy Ferman, founder and CEO of Seek Capital. “Keep a rolling budget and forecast that accounts for potential fluctuations — positive or negative.”
In other words, budget in a way that accounts for multiple real-world scenarios, says Ferman, creating a plan A, B, C, and possibly even D. “You want each plan fully mapped out as if it was plan A to keep you on top of any discrepancies. Allow yourself to come up with different variations, and allocate for those variations.”
Establish More Than One Stream of Income
Depending on how you define the data, anywhere from 20 million to 30 million people were unemployed or had their income affected by the pandemic, says Marco Sison, financial coach for Nomadic FIRE. To help protect yourself against the impacts of unemployment or reduced income, it’s a good idea to establish multiple streams of income.
“If one job or income stream is cut off, you still have other sources coming in to live off of,” says Sison. “Ideally, these income streams are passive: dividends, rental property, digital side businesses. If your hours get cut, or you lose your job, you can reduce your expenses and live off your side hustles without tapping your emergency fund.”
Budget for Saving
Warren Buffett has been quoted as saying “If you want to make saving a priority, take a look at how you budget. Do not save what is left after spending; instead spend what is left after saving.”
If you truly want to make saving a priority, particularly amid challenging economic times, you cannot plan to simply set aside what is left over, says Robert Johnson, a professor of finance, at Creighton University’s Heider College of Business. “You don’t successfully build wealth by simply taking what you have left after all your expenses,” says Johnson. “We accomplish what we prioritize. Prioritize savings and invest those savings. Saving should be a line item on your budget.”
Develop an Investment Policy Statement
Anyone who makes investments should create what’s called an investment policy statement (IPS) and follow it, says Johnson at Creighton University. “An IPS is a written document that clearly sets out an investor’s return objectives and risk tolerance over that investor’s relevant time horizon, along with applicable constraints such as liquidity needs and tax circumstances,” explains Johnson. “The whole point of an IPS is to guide you through changing market conditions. It should not be changed as a result of market fluctuations.”
Avoid Credit-Card Debt
Credit-card debt is a slippery slope in the best of times. And when the economy is uncertain, it’s best to avoid using credit cards as much as possible. “It’s never advised to spend money you don’t have via revolving lines of credit. And psychologically making purchases via most credit cards makes us a lot less frugal and undisciplined,” says Adem Selita, CEO and co-founder of The Debt Relief Company. “Considering that interest rates are near all-time lows, paying 20% or more on credit-card debt is a terrible financial decision to make.”
Clear Outstanding Debts
One more note about credit-card debt, if you’re able: Wipe out all existing debt. That will be the biggest favor you can do yourself in terms of meeting financial goals in 2021 and laying the groundwork for success (and beyond), says David Meltzer of East Insurance Group. “Chip off your debt bit by bit by paying off a small portion each month,” says Meltzer. “And do some belt-tightening on your spending for the time being. Take a look at your expenses and see which ones you can let go, and which ones you need to minimize, in order to help clear debt.”
Streamline Your Budget
Study your cash flow, both your income and expenses and outline a realistic household budget, says Meltzer at East Insurance Group. “Your expenses should be exclusively necessities like house bills, groceries, food, mortgage, insurance, and savings,” says Meltzer. “There’s no room for gym memberships and Netflix subscriptions on a tight budget. Most importantly, keep track of your spending. At this point, each cent counts.”
Consider Living Below Your Means
While you’re busy outlining your month-to-month budget goals for 2021 and paring back your spending, you might consider establishing a plan to live well below your means.
“By spending less than you earn, you open up funds to put into a savings account for emergency situations, such as a pandemic, or the loss of a job,” says Mason Miranda, credit industry specialist for Credit Card Insider. “The more you save now, the more financially stable you’ll be later when a crisis hits. Depending on your goals and how much you can save, you could even avoid going into debt and pay for large purchases in cash.”
Prioritize Your Goals and Be Realistic
Prioritizing all of your financial goals allows you to put them into specific categories based on which goals you want to meet first, says George Birrell, CPA and founder of TaxHub. You’ll also want to set a realistic time frame for meeting those goals amid the uncertain economic landscape.
“Setting a realistic timeframe is very important,” says Birrell. “If you set a timeline for one year, but your expenses don’t allow for meeting that timeline or you don’t have the capacity to put in extra work to earn more, you’re not going to reach that goal. Look at it objectively and realistically.”
Set Milestones Toward Larger Goals
Think of a milestone as a smaller goal that helps you get to your larger goal, says entrepreneur Thierry Tremblay, CEO founder of the online database software company Kohezion.
“They are like guideposts on the trail — smaller tasks that you can do to help you stay in line with your overall goal,” says Tremblay. If you fail at various points along the way when pursuing financial goals, think of it as an opportunity to gain valuable insights about things that work and don’t work, says Tremblay. “When you move on to the next goal you’re trying to accomplish, you have an advantage because of the things you’ve learned from your failure,” adds Tremblay.
Start With What You Have
Financial advisers often recommended setting aside three to six months’ worth of income in an emergency fund, which can seem overwhelming if you’re living paycheck to paycheck as many are right now, says Emma Healey, family finance and budgeting expert and founder at Mum’s Money. Rather than giving up on establishing an emergency savings altogether in 2021, simply start smaller.
“Start with what you have. Even if you can only spare $5 a week, stashing it aside to help pad out your budget when times are tough,” says Healey. “It is a decision you’ll never regret. Add more as you can, but the most important thing is to start.”
Automate Your Savings, Debt, and Bill Payments
It’s hard to spend money if you’ve already sent it somewhere else, says Chelsie Moore, CFA and director, wealth management and financial planning for Country Financial. Create automatic debt payments, bill payments and automatic transfers from your checking account to your savings account.
“A little bit adds up over time,” says Moore. “Automatic payments may help you avoid late payment penalties, which are a waste of money, and automatic savings can add up without effort or feelings of sacrifice.”
Meeting your financial goals in the best of times can often be challenging. But when the world is topsy-turvy it can be even more perplexing trying to figure out how to accomplish your goals once you’ve defined them. A personal finance professional can help you navigate the uncertainty and plot a path to success.
“Seek the advice and guidance of a financial professional who has the expertise to assist you,” says Tracey Bissett, CFA and president of Bissett Financial Fitness. “The best way to find one is to seek recommendations from someone you trust and then interview potential advisors to find the best fit. You should feel comfortable talking to the professional and asking them questions.”
Be Kind to Yourself
It’s important to remember as you embark upon 2021, and any year for that matter, that financial fitness is a lifelong journey. “Take small, imperfect actions daily to increase your financial knowledge and movement towards your goals. If you make a misstep, be kind to yourself and get back on track,” says Bissett.
Welcome to the Smarter Living newsletter! Every Monday, S.L. editor Tim Herrera emails readers with tips and advice for living a better, more fulfilling life. Sign up here to get it in your inbox.
No, I’m not going to tell you to skip tomorrow’s latte (or whatever minuscule semiregular purchase you make). Sure, you’re welcome to skip it, and if lattes make up a truly consequential portion of your budget, then cutting back would probably help. But for most of us, it’s simply unhelpful advice.
Then what does matter when it comes to personal finance? Well, more than skipping the occasional latte, getting a grip on your finances is about knowing where you want to go in the big picture, and knowing what steps will get you there.
Let me back my way into a personal example to show what I mean. My goal for this year is to save 60 percent of my income. It’s a stretch goal for sure — last year I saved around 35 percent — but it’s probably achievable. (And even if I fail, I’ll still likely end up saving more than I did last year, which is a win.)
But why is this my goal? And how will I actually get there?
Those are the two questions to ask yourself when you’re thinking about your money. In the big picture, I am saving for a down payment on a home — this is my why. But more important is my how: For me, that how is a combination of increasing my mindless saving (more on that below); decreasing my mindless spending (also more on that below); and eating out less, because that is by far the most consequential portion of my budget that I can directly control.
Your whys and hows will, of course, be different from mine, but knowing what they are is the only way you’ll get your financial house in order. Having goals is great, but better is truly knowing why those are your goals and how you’re going to get there.
Welcome to Personal Finance Week in Smarter Living. Each day we’ll publish a fresh story on money that will help you in your financial life. Whether you’re struggling with credit card debt, have no idea how to invest, never learned how to balance spending methods or need to have that dreaded “My parents are retiring and I don’t know what to do” conversation, we’ve got you covered. Check nytimes.com/smarterliving each day this week to keep up.
To kick things off, here are three things you can do today, right after reading this, that can help you reach your goals.
Stop saving your money
O.K., to be a little clearer: Stop actively saving your money. Automate it so you just don’t have to think about it. This is what I mean by mindless saving.
Your paycheck should be making pit stops before it hits your account, getting a little smaller with each stop. The priority of these stops, and the amounts saved, will vary based on your current financial life, but the general idea is the same: Automate your savings so you never even have to think about saving anything. Take yourself completely out of the equation — you can’t miss (or spend) what was never there. Self-control is a myth anyway, so just don’t bother with it.
There are many ways to do this, all of which you can do right after reading this: increase your 401(k) contributions by a percentage point today; have your workplace split your paycheck among separate savings accounts; have your investment accounts make automatic withdrawals the day your paycheck hits your account; increase your automatic contribution to your Health Savings Account; or set up or increase recurring transfers from your checking account to your savings account.
Whatever your savings needs are, the point is to make them automatic. Again, you can’t miss (or spend) what was never there. Stop budgeting to save X amount each month, and just have that amount removed from the equation.
If you’re just starting out, balance paying down high-interest debt (generally anything with an interest rate above 5 or 6 percent) with saving for your emergency fund (if you haven’t established this yet, aim to build your savings to $1,000 or the equivalent of one month’s expenses, whichever is more). Paying off high-interest debt offers a bigger return on your money than almost anything else you can do, and having a cushion of savings is crucial for all of the events you can’t predict.
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If you’re a little further along, you have lots of options. As an example, here are the five stops my money automatically makes: 401(k); then H.S.A.; then emergency/medium-term savings; then my investment account; and, finally, short-term savings/spending (think monthly expenses). Whatever’s left is what I get to spend. I hit 100 percent of my savings goals, and I don’t have to think about it once.
Decrease your mindless spending
Just like cutting back on lattes, this a regular piece of advice we hear about all the time — but this one is a little more grounded in reality.
You’re probably not going to cut all of them, but it’s very likely there are a few subscriptions you completely forgot about (I did this last month and discovered I had two subscriptions I didn’t know I had).
Instructions to find and cut your subscriptions on many devices and services can be found here, but also go through your bank account and look for recurring expenses. You might find something you didn’t even know to look for.
Personal Finance Week
Welcome to Personal Finance Week at Smarter Living! Catch up on our previous stories in this series
The Young Person’s Guide to Investing
The Best Way to Use a Credit Card? Treat It Like Cash.
3 Ways to Retrain Your Mind to Get Out of Credit Card Debt
Dear Mom and Dad: Are Your Finances Ready for Retirement?
Switch to a high-yield savings account
This one is very simple, and it’ll take you all of 15 minutes.
First, open a savings account at a bank that offers an annual percentage yield of at least 1.6 percent or higher — this is the amount of interest the bank will pay you just for keeping your money with them. I’d recommend the online banks Ally or Marcus, both of which I use.
Next, transfer your current savings account to it. This is your new savings account.
That’s it! You’re done!
We did this because regular savings accounts offer a small fraction of the A.P.Y. you get from a high-yield account. For example: A Chase savings account today offers 0.01 percent, while a Marcus account offers 1.7 percent. At those rates, if you had $500 in savings in each account and didn’t contribute any more, at the end of five years you’d have $500.25 in your Chase account and $544.36 in your Marcus account. It’s not a fortune, but it’s worth 15 minutes of your time today. (That’s the magic of compound interest.)
What are your finance goals for 2020? Tell me on Twiter @timherrera.
When Lisa first learned about the financial independence, retire early (FIRE) movement she was stunned that so many people, often younger than her, could possibly save enough to retire. Reading the blogs and first-person stories invigorated her. She wanted to follow suit. It changed the way she and her husband spent money. They cut out restaurants, wore old clothes and avoided coffee shops, funneling all the extra cash into paying down debt and building retirement funds.
“It really did motivate us,” Lisa said.
But as someone who has worked in the pharmaceutical industry for a number of years, she never had a huge problem with her job. The more Lisa saved, though, the more she felt annoyed at going to work. The more she saved, the more she wanted to watch HGTV before bed. The more she saved, the more she couldn’t understand why she should walk around in a coat with holes in it simply to prove that she was good with money.
The whole effort “made me unhappy,” said Lisa, who asked to only use her first name since she’s still working full-time. That’s why, four years after starting her FIRE goal of retiring young, Lisa and her husband decided to abandon the ‘retire early’ portion of their savings plan. Instead, she’s decided to focus on financial independence, but also not worry if they want to eat out on a Friday night.
There’s a fine line between frugality and feeling guilty over every dime that you spend in order to save a little bit more. Those that enter FIRE often ignore that line during the accumulation phase, saving as much as possible without regard to how it makes them feel today while sometimes sacrificing their health or well being. But it’s not a feat for everyone. For Lisa, this excessive frugality only became a hindrance to life.
It doesn’t mean she’s giving up saving. Or now, suddenly, going to rack up credit card debt. Instead, Lisa, who blogs about her experience at Mad Money Monster, is reevaluating her life again, figuring out what to keep and what to ignore when it comes to her financial independence (FI) strategy.
Abandoning Her Great Health Care Wasn’t An Option
As they saved, one factor that grew increasingly concerning was the health and welfare of her mom. “My mother depends on us for help for basic living expenses,” Lisa said. She expects to care for her mother as she grows older. While Lisa was making strides paying back debt under the FIRE plan, she had to spend $2,000 on her mother’s dental expenses.
Usually that cost comes out of pocket, and they expect to have to do the same with vision care and some other wellness needs.
This unknown complicated their financial picture. But also Lisa sees her mom’s situation, and then recognizes her luck with her current health care plan, which she describes as “really good.” The idea that she would walk away from that plan, simply so she could retire early – she’s about 60% of the way to her original FIRE mark – she now views as “selfish.” And she’s not comfortable with some of the other options out there for health care coverage, including the public markets or health shares.
“For me to walk away from that [healthcare] would be kind of dumb,” Lisa added.
Keeping A High Savings Rate
Despite rejecting the idea of early retirement at this point in her mid-40s, she’s made great strides in reshaping her financial situation.
When she learned about FIRE, her and her husband had just walked away from buying a large, expensive home that would have put them in a tricky financial predicament. They thought they needed the big house because that’s what people did after getting married. Instead of getting the house, she’s paid off her student loans, two cars and some credit card debt. The family has also invested in two single-family hoes, which they rent out, covering the mortgages.
At the peak of their saving they stashed away about 70% of their income. Now it’s closer to 50%. Still a strong level, but not with early retirement as the goal.
Lisa’s realization that there’s little desire to retire before traditional age has given her the freedom to build wealth for other purposes. She has the financial knowledge now and she’s using it to provide a large inheritance for her daughter one day.
“I want to build legacy wealth for my family,” she said. She has no problem staying at her job to grow that wealth.
But she’s also in a much more secure position, whenever her job does go away.
She’s Not Deprived Of Time
Often when people say they want to retire in their 30s or 40s they have dreams of traveling across the world, seeing new sights and meeting new people. That’s not the case for Lisa. “I’m so content with and entrenched in the adult family life,” she said.
She doesn’t demand much more travel than the summer vacation her family already goes on. Meanwhile, her husband, who works in the film industry, never wants to retire because he’s already found a job he would do even if he didn’t have to work.
“I feel like [we’re] not being deprived of time,” said Lisa.
And now that she has clarified her goals, it makes going into work much easier.
‘Time poor’ is the catch-cry of our era, and yet end-of-life retirement means we have an average of two decades of feeling time rich to look forward to… when we’re old. In this talk, Lacey shares how combining financial independence and mini-retirements is one way to bring that time rich feeling into our youth. Lacey Filipich started her entrepreneurial journey with a hair wrap stall at 10 years old. Today, she is the co-founder and director of two successful businesses; Money School and Maker Kids Club. Between hair wraps and start-ups, Lacey graduated as valedictorian from the The University of Queensland with an Honours degree in Chemical Engineering. She moved to Australia’s ‘wild west’ to begin her career in mining, rising quickly through the ranks. A health scare and her sister’s suicide opened Lacey’s eyes to the world beyond work, leading her to redesign her life and take five mini-retirements in the next five years. This was achievable because of Lacey’s financial position: she started investing at 19 and now earns a passive income. Lacey considers herself time rich: able to choose if, when, where, how, on what and with whom she works. Her story is one of many in the Financially Independent Retiring Early (FIRE) movement supporting the idea that end-of-life retirement is optional. This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at https://www.ted.com/tedx