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Everything You Ever Really Needed To Know About Personal Finance

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A few days ago, I had lunch with an individual who is considering hiring me to give a multi-hour seminar to a business convention on personal finance. This person knows me from the local community and is a reader of The Simple Dollar and he felt that I might be the right person to give such a presentation.

During the lunch, out of the blue, he asked me to give a five minute nutshell version of what I would present to the group. I thought for a minute, pulled a pen out of my pocket, and asked him for five business cards. In those next five minutes, I summarized everything I know about personal finance in a pocket-friendly presentation.

I saved the business cards, scanned them in, and thus, for your enjoyment, is my presentation (with some extensive helper notes so you can know what I was actually saying while drawing these cards).

1. The Most Important Thing

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In the end, this is the fundamental rule of personal finance: spend less than you earn. It’s the one point that comes up time and time again in almost every personal finance book you read or talk that you hear. Why? Because it’s true.

There are two avenues to achieving this goal: spending less and earning more. By working on either (or both) of these areas, you can increase the gap between those two numbers – and that gap is your ticket to freedom. The harder you work on either spending less or earning more, the bigger that gap will become and the quicker that train to your dreams will arrive at the station.

2. Earn More!

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So how does one earn more? Many people will argue that there is no universal way for people to earn more money, and they’re right: some people are born entrepreneurs, others function much better in an office environment. Some people are endlessly creative, others are masters at completing long lists of tasks.

Once you dig past that, though, there are some common things that anyone can do, regardless of their financial state, to earn more money.

3. Get educated.

This doesn’t mean drop out and go back to school. It merely means to keep learning new things. If something interests you, read a book about it. Take evening classes to get certification in a certain area or get a masters’ degree. No matter what you’re doing, there’s some way you can learn more and improve yourself.

4. More income streams.

Always be on the lookout for ways to have money rolling into your pocket from a lot of different places. Maybe you’re a good writer and can sell a short story or an online ebook. Maybe you’ve got a little piece of land somewhere that you can lease to a farmer or a developer. Maybe you spend your free time managing a flower bed in the park – why not put a little wooden freewill donation box out there for people to drop a coin in? Maybe you have some extra cash laying around with which you can buy a long-term treasury note that will keep issuing you a check every six months. Having more income streams merely means that losing one of them (like your job) is less devastating in your life and it also means your overall income for now will go up.

5. Start a side business.

Instead of burning a few hours in front of the telly each evening, how about investing at least part of that time into starting a side business? You can try starting a blog with a few ads on it, or maybe you’re good with woodworking and can make deck furniture. Maybe you’re good at baking bread and can take loaves to the farmer’s market, or maybe you deeply enjoy gardening and can sell vegetables. There are lots of possibilities out there for starting a business that will supplement your current income and perhaps eventually grow into your main income.

6. Move towards your passions.

Whenever the opportunity presents itself, gravitate towards the things that really excite you, because passion is what will make you successful. For me, my passion is writing, so I’ve made an effort to gravitate towards it by working on The Simple Dollar in my spare time. For others, it could be anything – maybe it’s leading a team, or perhaps it’s writing beautiful computer code. Whatever really excites you and makes you want to do more and more and more and better and better and better, that’s what you need to move towards at all times.

7. Don’t burn bridges.

You never know when a relationship you’ve forged in your past might come in handy later on, even the ones you completely don’t expect. Thus, even if you feel wronged in a situation or want “revenge” on some people – or even if you just feel an urge to spread negative gossip – resist it. As you get older, you’ll find yourself time and time again bumping into people that you forged relationships with earlier on – if you burned those bridges, you’ll find that eventually you’ll have burnt that very bridge that you need to cross to get ahead. My advice? Never spread a negative word about anyone, because it never helps.

8. Keep in touch!

When you do build a bridge with someone, don’t let it get old and worn out – spend the time to keep in touch with that person. Shoot them an email or a phone call every once in a while just to see what they’re up to. When it’s clear they need help and you can easily provide it, alwaysprovide it. I found the book Never Eat Alone to be particularly powerful in this regard. I’m rather introverted, and it’s often a challenge for me to initiate and then keep communication going with someone, and this book provided tons of tips on how (and why) to keep contact with people.

9. Live Frugal!

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For a lot of people, frugality is a nine letter word for cheap. They think of people doing stuff like buying cartloads of generic products, using forty coupons in the checkout aisle, wearing patched clothing, driving a rusted-out old vehicle, and other such things that it’s easy to look down your nose at.

Here’s a secret, something that I’ve witnessed several times in my own life and read about many more: those frugal people that you look down your nose at often have a mountain of cash in the bank (not always, of course, but more often than you think). They’re not drowning in a mortgage, they’re not making payments on a five figure credit card debt. They’re not working to death on the weekends or drowning an ulcer in Pepto-Bismol. They’re living their life according to their own rules.

The best part is that we can all apply some of those same rules in our own life.Here’s what you can do to start reducing that spending.

10. Maximize every dollar.

Every time you spend money, you make a decision. You decide that whatever you’re giving that dollar for is worth it, and thus you make the exchange. The real key to spending less is to raise that definition of what a dollar is worth. You know those times when you buy something, but you realize you don’t really need it and you’re also not convinced that it’s a very good deal? Make the choice to not buy it, or buy a cheap version and see how much you actually use it. Don’t be afraid to shop around a bit.

Food is a great example of this. Quite often, people will eat out at places like Applebee’s and drop $20 or $30 on a meal that they could have made at home for $3. “But it saves time and is convenient,” you say? Just for fun, try making an equivalent meal at home sometime. You might be surprised to find out how easy it is and how much you’ll save.

11. Habits of all kinds are dangerous!

Most people have some sort of routine in their day where they buy a morning latte or a bagel, or they drink six cans of soda, or they eat out at the same place each day for lunch. What these routines add up to is a lot of money. Spending $5 every day in a workweek adds up to $1,300 over a year – that’s a mortgage payment for a lot of people. Spend some time looking at the stuff you do every day, especially the ones that require you to spend money, and ask yourself if they’re really necessary or could be replaced.

12. The ten second rule

Every time you go to make any purchase, even when you pay a bill, stop for ten seconds and ask yourself if this is really something you want to spend your money on. Do you really need this item? Do you really need to be paying $14.95 a month for unlimited text messages when you use maybe ten? Could you reduce that electricity bill by putting in a lot of CFLs? This one simple technique will often point you in the direction of spending less money.

13. Don’t make yourself miserable!

Most of the time, when you cut a bit of spending from your life, you’ll find that you never miss it. However, there are times when you find yourself really regretting it. If that’s the case, then it’s probably a worthwhile expense for you. Saving money doesn’t have to equate to misery, it just means that you cut down on the unnecessary.

14. … but don’t forget the big picture.

That, of course, doesn’t mean that you should justify every purchase with a basic “I want it and I have money in my account.” That shouldn’t ever be enough to motivate a purchase. I find that using a visual reminder in my wallet of what I’m financially working towards does a great job of keeping my mind on the big picture and helping me filter out what’s really needed and what’s just a fleeting desire.

15. Manage money!

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Whenever you increase your income or decrease your spending, you’ll find yourself with more cash at the end of the month. That cash is your ticket to financial freedom, and the more you can get each month, the better off you are. The trick, though, is to not spend it, but to do things that will build a stable future for you. Here’s the game plan.

16. Pay off all high interest debt, such as credit cards.

Anything with an interest rate over 9% needs to go as soon as possible. Use the extra money to make double or triple payments on these debts, focusing first on the one with the highest interest rate. When that one’s gone, keep going with each successively lower interest rate debt. This is akin to Dave Ramsey’s popular “debt snowball” technique.

17. Build an emergency fund.

An emergency fund is an amount of money you keep in a savings account that’s intended to be used in the event of a major crisis, such as a job loss, a medical emergency, major car damage, and so on. I usually suggest to people that they measure their emergency fund in terms of months’ worth of living expenses – you should have a month and a half worth of living expenses for each person you claim as a dependent. So, for me in a house with two children and my wife, I have a six month emergency fund. Need help saving or not sure which account to open that will maximize your savings? Research the Best Savings Account options we featured.

18. Max out retirement.

By this, I mean you should go to one of those retirement meetings at work, ask exactly how much you should be putting away to ensure that your living expenses are well-covered in retirement, and put that much away. This varies a lot depending on how much you have in right now, how much your employer matches, and so on, so you should talk to your retirement planner at work about the specifics.

19. College savings?

College savings are next. If you have kids, set up a 529 college savings plan for them and start automatically putting a certain amount into this account each month. The plan Iuse for my own children is College Savings Iowa, which is managed by Vanguard – I currently put in $100 a month for each child.

20. Pay off all debts.

If all of these are covered and you still have cash left over (which you will, given some time), the next step is to pay off all of your debts. Get rid of your car loans, your student loans, and your mortgage. This is actually the step I’m focusing on right now, as I have already taken care of steps one through four. For help finding the right card to transition your debt and keep interest rates low, check out the Best Balance Transfers Credit Cards page.

21. Invest!

You might also want to start investing at this point. My recommendation is to buy low-cost broad-based index funds because they don’t have many fees and grow very nicely over long periods of time. I personally invest with Vanguard directly through vanguard.com.

22. Control your own destiny!

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Most people see the goal of all of this as being rich. That’s why you see so many books about millionaires on bookstore shelves – being a millionaire is something many of us aspire to, right?

Here’s the secret: it’s not about being rich. Having a big net worth is just an indicator of what this whole process is really about.

It’s all about freedom. Freedom from debt. Freedom from supervisors telling us what to do. Freedom to spend the time to do things right. Freedom to try out new things and follow our interests. Freedom to sleep until eleven one day, then stay up until two in the morning working on what we’re passionate about.

That’s what most people really want – I know that’s certainly what I want. Having a big bank account just means that I’m not beholden to others. I can follow my passions and dreams wherever they take me. If my job is not satisfying to me, I’m no longer tied to that paycheck – I can just get up and walk away. I can do whatever makes me happy and avoid most of what makes me sad, without regrets or worries.

It’s a lot of hard work to climb that mountain, but the air up there is the sweetest thing that there is.

Want to know more?

If you liked the information on these cards, you should really dig into some of the better personal finance books to learn more. I’ve read a pile of these and made a list of the best ones. You should also take the time to dig into The Simple Dollar as well assome of the other excellent personal finance and personal development blogs out there – they do a far better job of humanizing and explaining money and personal development than many of the “big” corporate sites.

Most importantly, remember that you can do this. Two years ago, I was almost bankrupt and in deep despair because I didn’t believe this stuff, either. It took a lot of learning and a lot of honest soul-searching, but I began to realize what was really important and I turned the ship around. Trust me: you can do it, too.

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About the Author

This article was written by Michael Michuki of Vermon Seidel’s blog, dedicated to the quips and thoughts of Vermon Seidel. Michael is a talented artist and entrepreneur from Kikuyu town. He loves making art and content that inspires growth and levels up, his surroundings. He also loves solving problems and taking up challenges. He believes that trust and peoples connections are today’s currency.

Callum Connects

Benjamin Kwan, Co-Founder of TravelClef

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Making music to create a life for his family, Benjamin Kwan, started an online tuition portal and his music business grew from there.

What’s your story?
I am Benjamin and I’m the Co-Founder of TravelClef Group Pte Ltd, a travelling music school that conducts music classes in companies as well as team building with music programmes. We also run an online educational platform which matches private students to freelance music teachers. We also manufacture our own instruments. I started this company in 2011 when I was still a freshman at NUS, majoring in Mechanical Engineering.

I was born to a lower income family, my father drove a taxi and was the sole breadwinner to a family of 7. I have always dreamed of becoming rich so that I could lessen the burden placed on my father and give my family a good life.

After working really hard in my first semester at NUS, my results didn’t reflect the hard work and effort I put in. At the same time, I was left with just $42 in my bank account and it suddenly dawned on me that if I were to graduate with mediocre results, I would probably end up with a mediocre salary as well. I knew I had to do something to gain control of my future.

During that summer break, I read a book “Internet Riches” by Scott Fox and I knew that the only way I could ever start my own business with my last $42 would be to start an online business. That was how our online tuition portal started and after taking 4 days to learn Photoshop and website building on my own, I started the business.

What excites you most about your industry?
Music itself is a constant form of excitement to me as I have always been an avid lover of music. As one of the world’s first travelling music schools, we are always very eager and excited to find innovative ways to a very traditional business model of a music teaching.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in Singapore and I love the fact that despite our diversity in culture, there’s always a common language that we share, music.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Hands down, SINGAPORE! Although we are currently in talks to expand to other regions within Asia, Singapore is the best place for business. I have had friends asking me if they should consider venturing into entrepreneurship in Singapore, my answer is always a big fat YES! There’s a low barrier of entry, and most importantly, the government is very supportive of entrepreneurship.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
I have been blessed by many people and mentors who constantly give me great advice but right now, I would say the best piece of advice that I received would be from Dr Patrick Liew who said, “Work on the business, not in it.” This advice is constantly ringing in my head as I work towards scaling the business.

Who inspires you?
My dad. My dad has always been my inspiration in life, for the amount of sacrifices that he has made for the family and the love he has for us. He was the umbrella for all the storms that my family faced and we were always safe in his shelter. Although my dad passed away after a brief fight with colorectal cancer, the lessons that he imparted to me were very valuable as I build my own family and business.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
You can not buy time, but you can spend money to save time! With this realisation, I was willing to allow myself to spend some money, in order to save more time. Like taking Grab/Uber to shuttle around instead of spending time travelling on public transport. While I spend more money on travelling, I save a lot more time! This doesn’t mean that I spend lavishly and extravagantly, I am still generally prudent with my money.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have taken more time to spend with my family and especially my father. While it is important to focus our time to build our businesses, we should always try our best to allocate family time. Because as an entrepreneur, there is no such thing as “after I finish my work,” because our work is never finished. If our work finishes, the business is also finished. But our time with our family is always limited and no matter how much money and how many successes we achieve, we can never use it to trade back the time we have with our family.

How do you unwind?
I am a very simple man. I enjoy TV time with my wife and a simple dinner with my family and friends.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Batam, it’s close to Singapore and there’s really nothing much to do except for massages and a relaxing resort life. If I travel to other countries for shopping or sightseeing, I am constantly thinking of business and how I can possibly expand to the country I am visiting. But while relaxing at the beach or at a massage, I tend to allow myself to drift into emptiness and just clear my mind of any thoughts.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Work The System, by Sam Carpenter. This book teaches entrepreneurs the importance of creating systems and how to leverage on systems to improve productivity and create more time.

Shameless plug for your business:
If you are looking for a team building programme that your colleagues will enjoy and your bosses will be happy with, you have to consider our programmes at TravelClef! While our programmes are guaranteed fun and engaging, it is also equipped with many team building deliverables and organizational skills.

How can people connect with you?
My email is [email protected] and I am very active on Facebook as well!
https://www.facebook.com/benjamin.christian.kwan

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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Entrepreneurship

Before you enter a Startup or before you choose your founding team or new hires read, “Entering Startupland” by Jeff Bussgang

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Before you enter a Startup or before you choose your founding team or new hires read “Entering Startupland” by Jeff Bussgang.

Jeff knows how to spot and groom good culture, as the book session was held in Zestfinance a company he invested in and now, “The Best Workplaces for Women” and for “The Best Workplaces for Tech”, by Fortune.

These are the questions during the Book Launch.

How to know if a hire including the founder is Startup material?
Jeff says to watch for these qualities.

First, do the hires think like an owner?
Second, do the hires test the limits, to see how things can it be done better?
Are they problem solvers and are biased toward action?
Do they like managing uncertainty and being comfortable with uncertainty? And comfortable with rapid decision-making?
Are they comfortable with flexible enough to take in a series of undefined roles and task?

How do we know if we are simply too corporate to be startup?

Corporate mindsets more interested in going deep into a particular functional area? These corporate beings are more comfortable with clear and distinct lines of responsibility, control, and communication? They are more hesitant or unable to put in the extra effort because “it’s not my job”.

If you do still want to enter a startup despite the very small gains at the onset, Jeff offers a few key considerations on how to pick a right one.

He suggests you pick a city as each city has a different ecosystems stakeholders and funding sources and market strengths. You have to invest in the ecosystem and this is your due diligence. Understand it so you can find the best match when it arises.
Next, to pick a domain, research and solidify your understanding with every informational interview and discussion you begin. Then, pick a stage you are willing to enter at. They are usually 1)in the Jungle, 2) the Dirt Road or 3) the Highway. The Jungle has 1-50 staff and no clear path with distractions everywhere and very tough conditions. The Dirt Road gets clearer but is definitely bumpy and windy. Well the Highway speaks for itself, doesn’t it?

Finally Please – Pick a winner!

Ask people on the inside – the Venture Capitalists, the lawyers, the recruiters and evaluate the team quality like any venture capitalists would. Would you want to work for the team again and again? And is the startup working in a massive market? Is there a clear recurring business model?

After you have picked a winning team and product, how would you get in through the door?

You need to know that warm introductions have to be done. That’s the way to get their attention. Startups value relationships and people as they need social capital to grow. If you have little experience or seemingly irrelevant experience, go bearing a gift. Jeff shared a story of a young ambitious and bright candidate with no tech experience who went and did a thorough customer survey of the users of the startup she intended to work with. She came with point-of-view and presented her findings, and they found in her, what they needed at that stage. She became their Director of Growth. Go in with the philosophy of adding value-add you can get any job you want.

And as any true advisor would do, Jeff did not mince his words, when he reminded the audience that, “If you can’t get introduced you may not be resourceful enough to be in startup.”

Startupland is not a Traditional Career or Learning Cycles

Remember to see your career stage as a runs of 5 years, 8 or 10 – it is not a life long career. In Startup land consider each startup as a single career for you.

Douglas Merrill, founder of Zestfinance added from his hard-earned experience that retention is a challenge. Startup Leaders to keep your people, do help them with the quick learning cycles. Essentially from Jungle to Dirt road, the transition can be rapid and so each communication model that starts and exists, gets changed quickly. Every twelve months, the communication model will have no choice but to break down and you have to reinvent the communication model. Be ready as a founder and be ready as a member of the startup.

Another suggestion was to have no titles for first two years. So that everyone was hands-on and also able to move as one entity.

Effective Startupland Leaders paint a Vision of the Future yet unseen.

What I really enjoyed and resonated with as a coach and psychologist was how Douglas at the 10th hire thought very carefully what he was promising each of his new team member. He was reminded that startups die at their 10th and their 100th hires. He took some mindful down time and reflected. He then wrote a story for each person in his own team and literally wrote out what the company would look like and their individual part in it. In He writing each of the team members’ stories into his vision and giving each person this story, it was a powerful communication piece. He definitely increased the touch points and communication here is the effective startup’s leverage.

Douglas and Jeff both suggested transparency from the onset.

If you think like an owner and if you think of your founding team as problem solvers. Then getting transparent about financials with your team is probably a good idea. As a member of a startup, you should insist on knowing these things
Such skills and domain knowledge will be valuable. There is now historical evidence of people leaving startups and being a successful founder themselves because they were in the financial trenches in their initial startup. Think Paypal and Facebook Mafia.

What drives people to enter a startup?

The whole nature of work is changing. Many are ready to pay to learn. Daniel Pink’s book Drive showed how people are motivated by certain qualities like Mastery, Autonomy and Where your work fits into big picture. Startups do that naturally. There is a huge amount of passion and the quality of team today and as it grows then the quality of company changes.

The Progress principle is in place, why people love their startup jobs is not money rather are my contributions being valued? Do I see a path of progress and do I have autonomy over work and am I treated well?

Find out more about StartupLand on Amazon

And learn from Zestfinance

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