Monthly Archives: July 2011

Lessons from Greece

Greek Piggy BankUnmanageable debt can creep up on anyone. It can happen to low income earners or high income earners. It can happen to businesses and companies. It can even happen to entire nations.

 

I was recently reading about the financial situation in Greece and it highlighted that the basic principles of money management are the same whether we’re talking about individuals or nation states.
Greece has tried to trim their budget through a range of cost-cutting measures, including cutting the pay of public employees. If you or I find ourselves with unmanageable debt, we must also start with cost-cutting—create a budget which minimises your expenses so you can divert more money to debt reduction. For individuals and countries alike, this may include debt renegotiation to make the payments more affordable.

 

But Greece is now in a position where they can’t trim their budget any further or renegotiate their debts to be more affordable—and they still don’t have enough money to meet their commitments. When you can’t reduce your expenses any further, the next option is to find ways to increase your income. In Greece’s case, they’re looking at producing income by selling some state-owned assets. Unfortunately for Greece, this is a little like taking an engagement ring to a pawn broker. Knowing you need fast cash, the broker is likely to offer you a rock bottom price—certainly not the true value of the article.

 

Meanwhile, Greece is also hoping to take out more loans so that it won’t have to default. Those loans, if they eventuate, are likely to come with unattractive terms because Greece represents a high risk to lenders. This is the same for an individual seeking a bad debt consolidation loan—the loan may provide some immediate relief, but the loan terms may lead to more long-term financial difficulties.

 

Of course, the situation in Greece is more complicated than I’ve described here, but we can draw important lessons from it for our personal approach to money management:
  • Create a workable long-term budget
  • Live within your means
  • Minimise your debt
  • Save for a rainy day

 

Live like a millionaire

Millionaire next doorI’m sometimes asked to recommend books about budgeting and personal finance. Regrettably, I never find enough time to read these days, but I do have some favourites which I’d like to share with you from time-to-time. I’m going to start with a book which is a good introduction to developing the type of mindset that underpins financial independence.

The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko

Where do most millionaires live? They live in big houses in fancy neighbourhoods, wear designer clothes and expensive jewellery, drive luxury cars and dine on venison and caviar. Right? In fact, no.

The Millionaire Next Door dispels these myths. Decades of research shows that most millionaires (individuals who have amassed a net worth of $1 million or more) defy the millionaire stereotype which is popularised in the media. It turns out that millionaire-types are usually more interested in financial independence than status symbols—which means you could very well be living next door to one.

Millionaire Next Door is based on research which comes from the United States, but the principles apply equally to us in Australia.

A few interesting statistics from the book:

  • Around half of all millionaires do not live in fancy houses in fancy neighbourhoods. They live in average homes in working class suburbs.
  • Most millionaires drive used cars. A minority drive new cars; even less have luxury cars and fewer still luxury foreign cars.
  • The most popular make of watch worn by a millionaire isn’t Cartier or Rolex. It’s Seiko. Most millionaires have little interest in expensive, showy clothes and accessories.
  • Eighty to 85 per cent of millionaires are self-made. In other words, they did not inherit their wealth or win it in the lotto. They achieved financial independence within their own lifetime.

Research reveals that millionaires come from all sorts of backgrounds, occupations and a range of income levels. What most of them do have in common is a thrifty attitude. The majority have developed wealth through budgeting, saving, investing regularly and living below their means. No surprises here: The majority of them track their household expenditure through careful budgeting. They are keenly aware that little expenses add up. They understand that the key to financial independence is financial control.

Interestingly, the studies in the book show that people who appear to have millionaire lifestyles—those that live in expensive homes and collect consumer status symbols, such as boats, new cars, designer clothes and accessories—very often have higher salaries than real millionaires, but most of their income is committed to servicing debt and consumer spending habits. Very little money—often none—is left over for saving and investing. This is the growing social segment that acts rich, but is actually financially vulnerable. These people are very likely to never achieve financial independence.

Here’s the main point and one of the inspiring lessons from Millionaire Next Door: You don’t have to be a millionaire or high-earner to be a financial high-performer. What you do with your income is a better indicator of financial health than how fat your pay cheque is.

Millionaire Next Door is full of excellent, practical reminders that good money management is a series of behaviours and patterns that each of us can learn to adopt.

Do you have hot tips and handy hints for saving money? Email your ideas to moneytalks@mybudget.com.au.

Refer a friend to MyBudget and go in the running to win a $300 Westfield shopping spree. Contact MyBudget for details.

Putting lives back together since 1999. Contact MyBudget today on 1300 300 922 or at www.mybudget.com.au.

Free school holiday fun

Happy childrenAcross much of the country, kids are on school holidays which means that parents and carers are looking for activities to keep them entertained. Lianda from Victoria emailed us this thoughtful reminder:

“During the school holidays you’ll be surprised how many free and very low cost things there are in the community to do with your children.

“Generally, local libraries have story time, singing, performances and craft activities free of charge, not to mention you can borrow books, CDs and DVDs for free. Toy libraries have a small sign-up fee then you can borrow and swap toys as often as you like.

“Bunnings always have free face painting and craft activities on weekends and often an extra two days a week during school holidays – and their playground isn’t bad either!

“Then of course there are the activities at Westfield shopping centres. Sometimes there’s a small fee, but they generally have some kind of entertainment for the children.

“In Geelong, our Wool Museum always has different experiences for children during the holidays. Recently, they’ve had a toy museum and a dinosaur exhibition with interactive things to play with and it very rarely costs any more than $5 per person.

“So why spend a fortune going away or going to the movies etc?!”

These are great tips, Lianda. If you’re looking for more budget-wise holiday ideas,Kidspot.com.au offers a searchable national directory of kid-friendly activities and many of the events are free. Look under the ‘Directory’ or ‘Things To Do’ menus.

Cleaning on the cheap

Cheap Cleaning TipsCleaning products can be hard on the pocket (not to mention the sinuses, skin and environment), so here are some ideas for cleaning on the cheap.

Two cheap and common pantry products are stand-out performers. Sodium bicarbonate (“bicarb”) has been a cure-all for centuries. Our grandparents’ generation used it for everything from leavening bread to drying out cuts and sores and removing stains from the carpet.

Vinegar is another top performer. I’m talking about cheap, white distilled vinegar—not the fancy varieties that are best reserved for salad dressings and dipping crusty Italian bread into.

Sodium bicarbonate

  • Sprinkle “bicarb” on your carpet or rug to freshen it up and remove odours. Preferably let it sit overnight before vacuuming.
  • Clean silver by making a paste of three parts bicarb to one part water. Rub onto silver with a cloth then rinse and dry.
  • Make your own bathroom cream cleanser (like Jif) by combining a quarter cup of bicarb with one tablespoon of dish detergent and enough vinegar to achieve the desired consistency.

White vinegar

  • Use full-strength vinegar as an antiseptic bathroom and surface cleaner. Keep it in a spray bottle for convenience.
  • Do you have yellow deodorant marks in the armpits of t-shirts or work shirts? Rub the stains with vinegar before washing.
  • Refresh a stained toilet bowl by tipping in a cup or two of vinegar and letting it soak overnight before scrubbing with a toilet brush.
  • Rub away lime deposits on taps and fixtures with a paste of one teaspoon of vinegar and two tablespoons of salt.
  • Loosen burnt on food from your barbecue surface with a spray of half vinegar and half water.
  • Remove carpet stains with a paste of two tablespoons of vinegar and a quarter cup of salt or bicarb. Rub the paste into the stain and let it dry overnight before vacuuming up the residue. (Probably best to test an inconspicuous spot first.)

Do you have hot tips and handy hints for saving money? Email your ideas to moneytalks@mybudget.com.au.

Refer a friend to MyBudget and go in the running to win a $300 Westfield shopping spree. Contact MyBudget for details.

Putting lives back together since 1999. Contact MyBudget today on 1300 300 922 or at www.mybudget.com.au.