Part 2: Organizing Chaos – Finance & Asset Management

Part 2: Organizing Chaos – Finance & Asset Management

 
There was an amazing feedback on the first part of this series, on why I was inspired to start putting things back into place. Here is a link to Part 1 for those of you who missed it. The reason I am starting with Finance, Assets and then Paperwork (next post) is because these are the most important, priority wise. If we don’t sort these out, the consequences can be catastrophic. Slight inattentiveness, negligence or recklessness can cost someone his whole life’s hard work and a lot of mental and physical disturbance.
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Keeping track of your money is one of the most urgent tasks that every household must tackle. I have noticed that there are far too many people who never put a thought to their finances even if they are busy earning money more than half their lives. In this day and age, where fraud is everywhere, we should be aware of our surroundings and keep checking our accounts at least once every month. When I worked in the financial sector as a Loan Executive in London, I realized that about 70 % of people in the UK never bother taking a look at their bank statements or knowing what transactions have been made on their accounts. Even if someone takes £100 out of their bank account, they would never find out. This attitude is actually encouraging hackers and thieves for their crime; they realize that chances are, they will never get caught.

My advice would be to have a ‘Financial Management’ folder in the house which should have your updated General Monthly Budget sheet punched on its first page. You do not need to make this sheet for each month. It can only be made once a year or when the statistics change drastically. This sheet doesn’t need to be 100% accurate specially the variable costs. This sheet is only to give you an idea of where you stand and ideally how much you can save in a month. Your budget is comprised of both Fixed and Variable expenses.

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General Monthly Budget sheet I made for Mama for her house

Fixed costs are the ones that have roughly the same amount to pay each month like rent or mortgage, tax (council & car), contracts (TV, internet, mobile phone, landline & gym), insurance (car, house contents, laptop & mobile), domestic help (maid, gardener & cook) and household bills (electricity & gas). Despite its name, fixed costs are not necessarily set in stone. Like your household bills will not be the same throughout the year, but you will have an average figure for each month. Unfortunately there will not be a month when you won’t have to pay them.

Trimming a fixed cost, like your cell phone plan or your cable package requires only making a decision once and then living on that decision consistently for several months or years. So when we are thinking of setting up Direct Debits or renewing a contract we should keep that in mind. Hence try to find a solution which is reasonably priced. There is ample of competition in the market these days. Devoting one Saturday afternoon every six months is necessary to review all your subscriptions, insurance plans and monthly bills. If you have gym/Love-Film membership or Newspaper subscription which you haven’t used or don’t require anymore, you need to make some changes. This may help you save a lot of money in your monthly budget.

In countries like England, we have the liberty to set up Direct Debits (on our fixed expenses) once, onto our bank accounts free of charge. Your bank can do that up for you or you can manually set them up through online banking for the agreed time period. This is the easiest way of paying bills and maintaining contracts, as it saves one the hassle of physically going just to pay them (like in Pakistan). Of course you wouldn’t deny paying your monthly electricity, phone or insurance bills so its automatically taken out of your account and you are posted the Receipt of transaction in a 100% reliable monthly process. I believe its an utter waste of time and effort if one has to physically go to different offices only to pay the bill every single month. Life is too short and busy for such unnecessary drama so try to simplify your life. There are alternate methods available for payment of bills, find out the most convenient ways for you by calling up your local bank or billing agencies.

Variable costs represent those daily spending decisions which can be controlled like eating out, StarBucks, tennis, shopping (clothes,shoes, gifts, furniture) and holidays. The reason they’re called variable is because the amount you spend on these differs between months, also some of these may not occur every month. While most variable costs represent discretionary spending, some variable costs represent necessities.  Most families spend variable amounts of money on groceries, putting gasoline in their cars, paying for car repairs and maintenance. Variable costs are normally the first expenses that people try to reduce when they need to start saving as we have more control over them. Trimming variable costs, requires actively making decisions everyday about whether or not to buy certain items or participate in certain events.

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In an ideal situation our income should be far more than our expenses. If that is not the case, our alarm bells should be ringing and we need to spend less on luxuries. Being in Break-Even situation (where your earnings are the same as your expenses) is not a good place to be in. It is okay to live that way if you recently started earning and that you’re having a struggling start to your career but that shouldn’t become the norm. In many cases, it seems like only money can buy us happiness. Outings like bowling, swimming, coffee place, lunch,  traveling, theatre and fun rides all cost us money. And the list goes on and on. But there are ample alternatives that one can do which don’t cost anything. Some of my favorite are:

  • Search for beautiful locations near your house and drive there on a weekend with snacks and your loved ones. UNESCO has great ideas for any country you reside in. Have a look at their website here. Some of them have an entry fees but its nothing compared to the amazing experience. I think its important to explore the places around you in life. It broadens ones view, makes you more aware of your surroundings and gives you something to talk about.

  • Prepare a picnic basket (snacks, drinks, books & cushions) and spend the day at a local park under a tree.
  • Have a candle lit dinner with your favorite music and company to light up the evening.
  • Spend a part of the night up in the terrace under the stars talking about the spookiest adventures we all have had in our lives.
  • Borrow BBQ equipment from a friend and have a blast on your rooftop.
  • Call your friends over on a one-dish party. Everyone gets to bring one home made dish. The laziest one gets to bring the drinks.
  • Call friends over and have a match of cards, chess or carom board.
  • Watch your favorite movie at home on your home theater with some snacks. 


If you need to start cutting back on expenses, look at both your fixed and variable costs. If you can cut back on these, you’ll free more money to save for retirement, build an emergency fund, pay off debt or invest. Suze Orman, an American financial advisor recommended that every person should have so much saving that if your income discontinues today, you are able to sustain your lifestyle for at least one full year. I could not agree with her more. Life is very unpredictable, not long ago I was earning roughly £2500 a month plus winning top seller incentives almost every month. Suddenly, while I was on my annual holiday, some unforeseen personal circumstances made it impossible for me to return. And I had to email my resignation. I have been living with my recently widowed mom since then. You should never take your income for granted and always be prepared for any unanticipated turn of events. Similarly, these days a lot of people with excellent jobs are suddenly being made redundant. You never know who is the next target. Following are some of my favorite saving inspiration quotes:

A penny saved is a penny earned.
  – Benjamin Franklin
All days are not same. Save for a rainy day. When you don’t work, savings will work for you.
  – M.K. Soni
Save a part of your income and begin now, for the man with a surplus controls circumstances and the man without a surplus is controlled by circumstances.
  – Henry Buckley

A Monthly Expenditure Sheet on the other hand, is the one which should be maintained every month. Writing down exactly how much was spent on Groceries, Bills, Eating Out, Shopping & Travel every month, gives one an idea of exactly where our resources are being spent. If we maintain our Monthly Expenditure Sheet every month, we get to see where exactly can we cut down and we are inspired to spend less as well. In order to maintain this sheet, it is necessary for us to keep a pen and diary with us in our handbag so we can jot down the expenses as they occur.

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Monthly Expenditure Sheet

Looking at our above mentioned financial Sheets, we can plan our future and decide to save up in a particular area (e.g. Eating out)  and use it for our next resort on the long weekend. Budget management does take a lot of time, effort and perseverance and I do get lazy when it comes to adding up every months total expenses. I suggest it should be done at least once in six months if you really can’t take the time out. Till you make your next Monthly Expenditure Sheet, just don’t forget to go through your bank statements to make sure, you recognize all transactions.

For all those who are single and only have to manage their own expenses and income, you may not need to make Monthly Expenditure Sheet as shown above. One could just simply jot down all expenses as shown below and add them up at the end of every month. Try to keep a diary and a pen in your bag all the time. Also keep all receipts in your wallet till the time you have written them amount down, otherwise we actually forget what we paid for. 

MARCH EXPENSES
DATE
ITEMS
FROM
PAYMENT
PRICE
INCOME
FROM
01.03.14 Eyeliner Al-Fateh Card Rs. 350 Rs. 5000 Pocket money
13.03.14 Handbag Outfitters Cash Rs. 2500 Rs. 20000 Job
25.03.14 Contribution towards bills NayaTel & PTCL Cash Rs. 10000 Rs. 10000 Shoots
TOTAL Rs. 12,850 Rs. 35,000
                                                                        TOTAL SAVING : Rs. 22,150

My advice would be to have a completely separate savings account. Keep its ATM card away from you and locked up. Now every time you get paid, first of all transfer some amount into your savings account and then continue your monthly expenses. Most people spend first, and if anything is left at the end of the month, save it. We have to make sure its the other way around. Never use your savings for your monthly expenditure except in emergencies. One thing I’ve learned in life is that the more you earn, the more you spend. There is just no limit to our luxuries as the marketers have gained command over us and we seemed to have surrendered to them completely. We need to take back the control and save up for our rainy days.  

We all have our ups and downs in life and most of us go through a financial upheaval at some point in our life. It is times like these that many of us give up and develop habits like drinking and smoking. They try to find peace through these but actually it not only worsens their financial state but also has an adverse affect on their health. In these hard times, it is important for us to act responsible and make a financial plan and budget by which we can survive. Trust me, I have seen days when even basic survival seemed impossible and in spite of working day and night, there was hardly anything left after rent, bills and transport. The only way to survive through such times is to tell yourself that ‘This too shall pass’ which my dad taught me and sit down and make a budget to work it out. Times like those teach a person quite a lot. I ate inorganic cheapest vegetables and food items for years as there was no other choice. After that experience, having a normal organic, free-range omelet tasted divine.

One thing that is worth mentioning is a technique that I used in a few hand-to-mouth months. If you are struggling financially, here’s an idea. Take four envelopes. With a pencil, mark Groceries, Bills, Transport & Shopping on them. Now at the start of the month, put just enough cash in each envelope. This way you would have no option but to stay within what each envelope contains for that month. Suppose you’re at the grocery store check out, you have taken £40 with you, The cashier says your bill is £50. You just tell her that you are £10 short. So with her help, you can take off the irresistible chocolates, popcorns and Pepsi bottles that you sheepishly loaded on your trolley. Your health will thank you for that later on. Try never going for grocery shopping with an empty stomach. During such months of trouble, please hide your debit card from yourself and avoid walking through the chocolate or candy aisles at all cost.

You can call up your bank and ask them to post your bank statements to you monthly with which you can make your Monthly Expenditure Sheet. In my opinion, it is very important to enable Online Banking on your account. It just makes life so much easier. You can view your bank statements anytime, pay bills, make payments and set up Direct Debits and see the up to date account balance conveniently on your terms. If you are not a computer person, then Telephone Banking would be the right thing for you. Just make sure you remember your verification codes which they will ask you on the phone before you can proceed. Have a safe place to write them down in case you forget.

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What ‘Online Banking’ looks like

An asset is anything tangible or intangible which you have in your house that has positive economic value. It is normally anything which you can’t afford to lose.  The most common assets that people have in their houses are: cash, jewelry, keys and paperwork (of properties, bonds, shares etc). It is vital for every household to have proper lockable drawer or cupboard so they don’t leave anything important lying around at risk.

Most of your jewelry should be kept inside a locker in a bank, along with a list of the items there. Keep another copy of this list with you, locked up. In my opinion, we should only keep a few small sets locked up at home, which we wear often. This is for all the girls out there, no matter how much someone pressurizes you, always keep your jewelry in an account under your own name. No one else has the right to keep your belongings into their accounts even if they swear its for a short period. If you realize your jewelry is just in the locker and you never wear it, its best to change it for something you would wear. If you are really not into wearing gold, and only wear artificial ones on occasions, do consider the idea of selling it off and investing in some other way. Gold has to be kept responsibly, you have to give Zakat and pay locker fees to the bank annually so make sure it’s worth keeping all of it.

Zakat has to be paid even if the wife isn’t earning. In case the husband agrees to pay on her behalf, it solves the issue. In case he doesn’t, it is her responsibility even if she has to sell off part of it to pay it. If your jewelry falls below the Nisaab (about 3 oz), Zakat is not required. Try to get a locker in a bank that’s close to your house so its easily accessible. No point of having it if you can’t reach it when you need to wear it, so convenience should be kept on priority.  Avoid showing it off for your own safety. It is a good idea to only wear your jewelry during the function and put it back into your purse before and after it. This way no outsider will see you wearing it on your way home. 

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Roughly organized keys for Mamas house


As far as keys are concerned, we all have a fancy key ring in our handbag which contains our most important keys like house, car and cupboard. All spare keys should be properly marked and kept in your lockable cupboard. Keep all the keys safe. If you misplace any key, you should be aware that any intruder can use that to come into your personal space unless you go through the hassle of changing the whole system. If you are a landlord, key management is even more important for you. Make sure you have marked all the keys properly with markers and kept them in separate sealable plastic bags. Always keep all master keys with you. Only duplicates can go to the tenants and the careless kids.
 
I hope all this made sense and can be applied into your lives somehow. The next part on Organizing Chaos is Paperwork & Books which will be posted soon. Hope you have a good day.

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