Many of us make New Year resolutions, but how many of those are about our finances? 2020 was a tough year for large numbers of people, and we aren’t out of the woods yet, but knowing you have taken all the right steps will give you some peace of mind.
With that in mind here’s a list of 10 steps you can take to get yourself financially fitter in 2020.
1. Have an emergency fund. This is my number one priority for everyone. If you haven’t done this, you need to have cash equivalent to at least three months’ outgoings and preferably more. Start this today.
The importance of having an emergency fund to fall back on was sadly brought home to many people who suddenly lost their income due to COVID19 last year and immediately found themselves in difficulty.
You never know when the rainy day will come so best to be prepared and there is a great deal of comfort in knowing that you have a financial buffer.
2. Sort out your paperwork. Put all relevant financial papers in one place. That includes bank statements, information on accounts, life assurance and savings policies, copies of wills. A safe is ideal but a large box or folder will do.
Do back up properly though and send copies of important items to a secure email account that you can access from anywhere.
3. Keep a budget. This is especially important if money is tight as until you know what is coming in and at least as importantly, going out, each month you won’t be in a position to improve your situation. Too many people wonder where their hard-earned income went each month, so for a few months you need to keep a log of every Dirham that you receive and every one that you pay out, no matter how little the bill. If you feel you are frittering cash away, note what you are spending it on. At the end of the month tally each column and you will see not only what is left over, but also where you can make savings.
This matters even if you have a good income and no debt as many people I speak to are not quite sure where all the money goes each month and it will help you manage and allocate your income a little better.
4. Set yourself a monthly spending limit. Once you have paid your rent or mortgage, your utility bills, loans and essential bills, give yourself a set amount to spend each week or month. Your pocket money if you like. If it helps, pay yourself an allowance in cash and leave cards at home as that way you will be far more aware of where the money is going.
One school of thought says that after allocating essential expenditure, you should allocate money for savings and investment and then only spend what is left.
5. Address those credit card bills. Paying the high rates of interest on a credit card balance is a waste of money. Paying the minimum amount each month will not reduce the balance so you must pay more than that amount each month to make any inroads on your debt.
For useful information on dealing with debts take a look at this article: 10 tips for dealing with debt in the UAE
6. Get insured. People don’t think twice about insuring their cars but what about the person who is paying the bills? What are they worth if no longer around, or seriously ill and unable to earn?
If you have dependents or a mortgage, you need to make sure you have enough life assurance to protect your family. It is the kind thing to do and it isn’t expensive to arrange simple life cover.
More info here: Is Your Family Protected If You Die? Six Common Errors
7. Start saving. Even if you start small, it is still a start. If you need discipline, set up a standing order to move money to a saving account after you get paid so can’t spend it. Put coins and small notes in a jar each day, but get started. It soon becomes a habit and the amounts will build up.
8. Plan for your future. The earlier you start the better and compound interest/growth can make a big difference. There are a variety of options to suit different budgets and circumstances but make sure you get professional and unbiased advice.
Your existing investments may also need reviewing in light of all that has happened over the past year. We are in ‘interesting’ times in terms of global stock markets and professional and experienced investment management makes a difference.
Following regulatory changes in the UAE, I now have new investment plans that are super flexible without penalties, with thousands of fund options so I can structure portfolios to suit all personal requirements.
9. Watch out for scammers. There are large numbers of scams doing the rounds so be careful, be cynical and ask questions of any direct contacts. Or just don’t deal with cold callers. Scammers are getting smarter. Don’t ever give passwords or PINs over the phone.
When seeking financial advice, make sure you only speak to properly qualified advisers. Ask the question and check people out. Avoid salespeople and note that ‘financial coaches’ are not advisers and not qualified to provide advice or accountable. This is so very important.
And last but not least:
10. Set yourself goals. It is important that you set yourself goals as without them you cannot measure your success.
If the priority is to pay off your credit cards, set a monthly payment goal and a deadline to have a zero balance. If you need to build up cash savings, decide how much you will try and save each month and have a target that you can review every six months.
A proper financial review to check that you are on track, to review any existing policies, and to discuss how you can achieve your goals can be highly beneficial.
Make 2021 the year when you really make a difference to your financial situation and seriously plan for your future. It doesn’t have to be painful but it really matters.
Happy New Year!
To arrange a discussion on any aspect of your personal financial planning, please email me at email@example.com
I write articles such as this one as part of the holistic personal financial planning service that I provide to expats, and the general consumer, financial and legal information that I provide in The National newspaper, on radio, and on the Facebook group British Expats Dubai.
Please take a look at the other useful articles on this website.