Cash Management

In The Star newspaper today (Sept 23, 2011), Netizens called for the need of Financial Education for younger generation and another voiced out that there is an urgent need for communication among family members on Financial Planning. Separately, in the Views section, a man wrote about how hard it is to make ends meet with high cost of living. I do agree with him when he wrote, “live within your own means is easier said than done in this materialistic world that we live in“, but it is not impossible.

Cost of living is always on a rising trend. Food and services cost much more now than five years ago. We also know that it will surely cost a lot more five years from now. Take a linked-house for instance; some 20 years back, you only paid RM100K (+/-) for a decent one in a nice neighborhood; 10 years after that, you had to pay close to RM300K, today it costs almost RM500K for an intermediate double-story linked house in a nice neighbourhood!

Young people who enter the work force today will soon come to realization that the income they earn may not be sufficient to finance the lifestyle they once enjoyed while they were still studying. This realization will dawn on them, like a bitter pill to swallow, more so to those who were used to being well provided for and pampered by their parents.

Once they earn their own income, they would have to start paying for their own car installments, maintaining that car, room or house rentals (if they live away from parental home), paying for their study loan (if any), paying for meals, social outings with friends, etc. Notice that I have not mentioned any periodical/optional spending yet, like purchases (clothes, shoes, accessories, etc), medical expenses, friends’ birthdays/weddings/newborn gifts, purchases of books, magazines, IT gadgets, movies/DVDs, sports equipment, gym membership, and more. How much is required to provide for such current lifestyle?

Without proper cash management planning, you tend to spend as you please and worry about the consequences when the time comes. When you realize that you can’t even afford some little luxuries or pleasures in your life (after working so hard), you may resort to the easily obtained credit cards from eager banks. As a result, you will spend more than you have, buying stuffs on credit, which you can’t really afford. On credit means, it is a loan. Whether it is zero-interest 6/12/18/24 months installment or lower interest (than normal finance charges), it is still a loan with an interest.

It is truly zero interest if you can make good the monthly installment, i.e. pay in full every month and on time. If you don’t pay the full installment amount, the balance will be added to your outstanding figure and interest will be charged accordingly. As a result, you have to take longer period to settle that initial principal sum. At the end of it, you are actually paying much more!

What should you do? As easily said, live within your means. I do feel for you…it is tough when income stays stagnant but cost of living keeps increasing. These days, you cannot step out of your house without paying for something. Basics like petrol, toll charges, parking fees have to be paid before you can feed your hungry stomach!

Well, we cannot control people to give us a raise every time something increase in cost. The only way is to control our own spending. We have to find ways to save in little ways, and big ways as well. Decide to play a pro-active role in your personal cash management and be at the driver’s seat. Only you know very well what you really need and not.

How do you see it? Work out your monthly budget (personal and/or family) according to your net income (the amount you take home with). If you are not sure, record every purchase for the next 2-3 months to identify your spending pattern. Track your expenses using a simple method, merely INFLOW VS OUTFLOW. All smartphones and tablets have all sorts of cash-flow apps available. You’ll be spoilt for choice. Choose one which suits your style of recording. The easier it is to record, the more you’ll keep to doing it, for the longest time. Make it habit.

Once you have the budget vs actual spending recorded, see if you have overspent in any area. If your spending is within the budget, excellent! Next, look at your cashflow statement (Income vs Expenses). Is there surplus (positive balance : income more than expenses) or deficit (negative balance : spend more than income)?

If there is surplus, work on putting aside between 10-20% of your net income as savings and the balance to be spent. Remember, save for yourself first. However, if you find that you have more financial obligations than your income (deficit), you have to look through your expenses list again. You have no other choice but to bite the bullet to bring the figures down. If you can live without certain things, take it off or find a more cost-effective alternative. Try to save as much as you possibly can. Failing which, you are in great danger of being sucked into the debt quicksand.

Most importantly, do not spend in advance. Let me explain, if you want that designer shoes now for an upcoming gala dinner, don’t find reasons to sign credit card for it. You might say that “I’ll sign now and when I get my bonus in a couple of months’ time, I can full-settle that purchase.” That, I’d like to call “advance spending“. What if there is no bonus coming your way? You’ll be stuck with the debt. If you want something expensive, save up for it or wait till you receive that bonus. It’s not a basic need. It’s just a “want” – which you can live without but lovely to have.

The earlier you plan your personal finances, the more secured will be your financial future. The best time to start is when you get your first pocket-money. Yup, you can start as young as being first day at school. If you start at such young age, by the time you enter college or university, you will know how to budget your expenses like a pro! When you enter the work force, budgeting and cash management will become part of your life. Cool, isn’t it?

If you haven’t done it yet, it is never too late to start right now, right here. The sooner you act on it, the lesser financial mistakes you make. I started late. I wished that someone started talking to me about proper cash management and financial planning when I was much younger, especially when I first started working. By the time I knew about it, I had a lot of damage control to do and I had to start from scratch. Though I felt that it’s late, it was still not too late for me to make it right.

So, start with your budget then record all your expenses. Make comparison between budgeted and actual expenses. Finally, if you have any surplus, save for 6-12 months of expenses, to be put aside as emergency fund. Next, save for your Retirement. The sooner you start building the nest egg, the more fund you’ll raise. Some may want to save for their first home, wedding, birth of their child, etc. Plan well and plan right. If you can’t do it, seek professional help. There are many licensed independent financial planners in town. They can help you plan and advice for a reasonable fee.

Need not say more. Act now. All the best to you, and please make the most of what you have.

~ Alice N.


Slow Down

Many of us wear many hats in our lives. Telling us to “SLOW DOWN” may seem like an alien word or not even found in our vocabulary. It even sounds irrelevant or a waste of precious time.

We rush around like Mr. Rabbit in ‘Alice In Wonderland’ movie, always scurrying around with a clock in its “hand”, always running late for something, more like, everything! As for us, we rush through our meals, if not skip them altogether to complete an urgent task; we speed from one place to another during week days and when weekend arrives, we can’t switch off to slow down the tempo to enjoy the drive! Do you experience that too?

Whatever we do, we affect people around us, don’t you agree? When we are in a rush, we also expect them to keep pace. We rush our children to eat more quickly (for what, I wonder?), we tug them along from one activity to another and we literally push everyone to keep to our schedule – our partners, our colleagues, the cab drivers, the maid, the chauffeur, etc.

When you breeze through from one chore to another, from one place to the next, can you feel your heart pumping faster and harder than usual? Do you feel your neck strained, shoulder muscles become stiff, maybe you feel that nagging pain in the upper or lower middle back too. Do you also feel stressed in your mind, desperate, frustrated and/or anxious, as if the walls are closing in around you?

Why do we put so much stress to our minds and bodies? Is it because everything appears important and urgent to us? You may ask, isn’t important and urgent the same? Meanings may differ from person to person. To me, important is not the same as urgent. Not to worry. I’m not going to lecture about the differences here and now.

Briefly though, important and urgent refers to something which may cause great loss – financially, emotionally, physically, if it is not attended to immediately. For example, when the house is on fire, it is important to save lives and get everyone out of the burning house immediately.

Urgent but not important means a task is to be completed within a specific time to avoid inconvenience. Let’s take the example of the burning house again. Before the fire burns everything to ashes, you may also want to act fast to save your passport and other personal belongings. It is an urgent task but not so important as compared to saving lives, especially when the fire is spreading fast.

Having said all that, shouldn’t we try to separate the two and prioritize? I believe that once you list them down, you will know when to rush and when not to. You must know how much you can do and plan within that. Do not try to cramp everything, important or not, urgent or not, into one day, unless you have the time for all. It is alright to carry forward any unimportant task.

You may want to plan like this :
1. Important and Urgent (if more than 1 task, you may number them as 1.1, 1.2, etc)
2. Important but not so urgent(itemise as 2.1,2.2, etc)
3. Urgent but not so important
4. Not urgent and not important

By planning properly, you’ll find that you would not miss any important dateline /appointment /project anymore! If a task is unimportant and you have too many items in your to-do list, you may choose to defer it. You can even allocate some time to chill. The break can be an important item too when you are too tired to move another inch. By allowing your mind and body time to wind down, you can be more productive and get more accomplished after re-charged. Try it!

Besides planning your tasks, let’s talk about punctuality too. It is also about time management. If you have an appointment and you know that it will take about 1 hour to get there, move out at least extra 15 minutes earlier. Traffic condition and weather are so unpredictable. You don’t want to be late or speed all the way to your appointment. It may endanger yours and others’ lives on the road. However, if you happen to arrive earlier, use that time to unwind after the long drive, check your messages and reply to them or even, read a book or something. Arriving earlier or on time indicates that you respect your time and that of the person you are meeting. Being punctual tells the other person that you are disciplined, in control and are serious about the meeting. People will respect you more.

Slow down! Plan your time and journey. Plan your tasks too. Not all are as important and urgent. Some things can’t wait, some can. So, act accordingly.

Now, get off that chair, hang up the apron and rubber gloves, whatever, to go for a walk in the park, do something together with your spouse and/or children, have a cuppa by the garden or even drive out to have a drink/meal with friends. When there’s a will, there’s a way, my friend. Just do it! You’ll feel fabulous, trust me.

Say that again, “SLOW DOWN“. Tell it to yourself, your spouse, your children, friends, boss, colleague, anyone! There’s always time for everything. Though not everything needs to be done now. You know best!

Cheers to an easy and lazy weekend. You deserve it 🙂

~ Alice N.

What Do You Do….?

…when you are not well and still have loads of work to do?
I say, the best thing to do is to rest at home for a whole day. Eat, drink plenty of water and take your medicine as advised by the Doctor. Sleep for as long as you like to let your body recuperate. Moreover, by doing this, you also keep the virus away from other people. All it takes is a day’s rest and you’ll be fit again to return to your work. I always believe that working with a full and fresh mind is more productive than a weak and sleepy mind.

….when you seem to work continuously for the whole day?
I say, walk away from the task for a while, take five or ten. Make yourself a cup of coffee or tea, put your feet up and relax. Resume work after you’ve had your break. Even a good show on TV breaks for commercials. Why not we take a short break after doing something for a long period. By doing this we give rest to our mind, eyes, hands, body, etc. Sometimes, you get new ideas during that break! A mind thinks better when it is calm.

….when you have an off day but no plans?
I say, doing something spontaneous puts a little spice back to your life. Not all things need to be planned out so systematically. Let your hair down and do things as they come to your mind! I like to go out, sit in a cafe to enjoy my cup of hot Americano, with a good book or iPad. Nibbling on finger sandwiches whilst observing my surrounding. People-watching is one of my past time. You learn a lot by observing others.

…when you have an argument with your partner?
I say, walk away to cool off. Confrontation in anger is a big NO NO. Some hurtful words may be hurled at each other, which may be regretted later. Best to leave the talking till both are calmer. If talk can’t take place at all, especially when both are at defensive stance, I would say, write an email or a letter. Read it over and over again till you are satisfied with it before sending it or passing it to your partner. Putting your feelings into words make you see things more clearly. If you are wrong, be brave enough to apologize. You have nothing to lose when you take a step back, you’ll gain more. Fight for the relationship and you’ll find that you grow stronger and closer with each misunderstanding.

…when you are upset with your child?
I say, it is good to sit down with him/her, over a cup of hot chocolate or tea, to try to understand him/her. Let him/her speak first. Listen with your ears and heart, not with your mouth (Sshhh…don’t interupt. Let the child speak). Once he/she’s done, it’s your turn to seek understanding from him/her why you feel or react the way you did. If you realize that you have misunderstood him/her, apologize instantly and assure him/her that you will always welcome talks like these. I believe all children can understand or at least, try to understand your points of view. Spend some time to explain calmly and patiently.

…when a friend is sad, hurt or feels helpless?
I say, be there for him/her. If he/she needs to talk, let him/her talk while you listen. Please avoid offering any kind of advice until you are asked. Validate his/her feelings. If he/she doesn’t feel like talking, serve a hot cup of coffee or tea and accompany him/her in silence. Let him/her know that you’re there for him/her. If he/she needs to be alone, allow it. Let him/her know that you’ll be there when he/she is ready for company.

…when you are hurt, sad or feeling helpless?
I say, ask for help when you need it. We are strong people, mentally and physically but sometimes, we do face down times and it is time to lean on another person to help you find your strength back. Turn to someone wise and reliable, like your partner, a friend, you know who. You may also choose to write about your feelings. I always like this because it helps me see things more clearly than trying to sort it out in my already clouded mind.

I hope this helps in some ways….making your life easier to deal with, especially when faced with challenges.

Have a more relaxing weekend ahead!

~Alice N.

A Little Bit of Kindness

This afternoon, my colleague complained to me that it is pointless to be kind. When he showed a little bit of kindness, people will take advantage of him. All I can say is that he is not alone. We face this everyday in our lives, children and adults alike.

My children are not spared too. There were times when they came back disappointed over what their friends did in return to their act of kindness. It hurt me seeing them so disappointed and sad. Wished I have a magic wand to erase that bad experience to bring back sweet, happy smiles on their faces again. I may not have the right words to say at that moment. What I know is, I must be there for them to lean on, each time they need emotional healing. Most importantly, to help them deal with these unpleasant events as they emerge.

I feel that being able to deal with it is the best solution. Face it instead of running away from it. For parents reading this, I’m sure you would be nodding in agreement. How did you try to mend that wound? What did you say or do, to make sure that they continue believing in their good deeds?

We must understand and accept that there are some people who still have not learnt how to appreciate kindness. There just are! They are only interested in taking; never in giving, unless they get something in return. Some don’t even aware of what they are doing! It’s such a pity actually….

Nonetheless, we shouldn’t let that put us off from being kind to others. Sure, there are some rotten apples in the world, who enjoy taking advantage of friendly and honest parties. Let’s not become a number to that, shall we?

Personally, I feel that when you act in kindness, it makes you feel good and makes you love yourself more. You don’t have to bother keeping score because I truly believe that the universe is with you. When you do good, your positive energy will become stronger and it will attract good energy from the universe to you. As I told my friend, even if you have to fall, or going through a rough patch, the universe will support you by making it less painful, and temporary.

If you have been kind but life gives you lemons, have faith in yourself and the universe. One of my mottos in life is, “If life serves you lemons, make lemonade out of them!” Just keep doing the right thing, don’t despair. You’ll be surprised that there is always “someone” watching over you.

I hope this brief post manages to convince you to continue showing a little bit of kindness to yourself and people around you. Be less judgmental and be more forgiving. Be less calculative and be more generous in sharing.

Here’s wishing you a wonderful weekend and enjoy more fulfilling days ahead!

~ Alice N.

Posted with WordPress for AN’s BlackBerry.

Let The Garbage Trucks Pass

The first time I heard about “Garbage Truck” tale was from my senior teacher in Sunday class. He shared with us how people around us could be like garbage trucks. They move around full of garbage – frustration, anger, disappointment, anxiety, etc. As their garbage piles up, they will be looking for a place to dump the load. If you let them, they’ll dump it on you.

Yesterday, as I was browsing the shelves of books at the Times Bookstore for something to read, this bright yellow book attracted my attention. When I saw the title, “The Law of the Garbage Truck (David J.Pollay)“, I thought to myself, “Yeah, that must be where the earlier story (the one I mentioned above) came from!” . I’ve added the image of the book here for reference. And, if you like it, and want to own one to read further, I would encourage you to get a copy. It’s a keeper!

It is such an interesting read that I feel I must share with you, some salient points of the book, coupled with my own descriptions to each, through personal experience and observation, if I may…

What I learnt from the 8 commitments of the law :-

#1 Don’t let others dump on you
As I mentioned in other posts before, don’t be burdened unnecessarily by things you can’t control, especially the negative ones. Pay attention on what really matters and which are within your control. Life is short; Choose to spend it wisely.

#2 Don’t dump on yourself
Yes, in life, we have either more or less regrets. Whatever it is, do not brood over the matter. Forgive and move on. Think positively and look at challenges as opportunities to learn and do things differently. Dare to dream…with dreams and right actions, you’ll eventually get to where you want to be. Don’t let ‘sour grapes’ get you down and give up on your dreams. Have more faith in yourself.

#3 Don’t dump on others
This requires lots of patience and practice. We are humans with feelings, but that doesn’t stop us from trying to be kind to ourselves. We cannot stop people from dumping on us, like people cutting queue, people passing nasty comments, lousy service from the waiter at the restaurant, etc. We can choose how we want to react to it. Either we pull our hair out and scream for attention, become vengeful and judgmental, or we could decide to get out of the way and move on. If you can, forgive them.

#4 Help others stop dumping
Make others’ days! Acknowledge the good in people and of course, be sincere about it. Everyone has his/her strengths and weaknesses. When people are in good mood, there won’t be any space for garbage dumping. Spread the happiness around!

#5 – Do honour your NO GARBAGE TRUCKS! Pledge
Do unto others what you want others to do unto you“. If you don’t like being dumped with garbage, don’t do it to others. If people dump it on you, have the bug stop right there. Step over it and walk on.

When we feel grateful for what we possess, we would not complain so much or be jealous about other people’s achievements. When we work hard for what we want, we will feel proud of that achievement. We don’t have to belittle others or say bad things about people to make us better. We can put all our energy to good living and have a more meaningful lives.

#7 – Do live in a NO GARBAGE TRUCKS! Zone
It is alright to let people know where you stand. It is worth being known for someone who doesn’t accept nonsense from others but appreciates good energy.

#8 – Do work in a NO GARBAGE TRUCKS! Zone
You could also make your workplace a better place to work. I’ve come across people who would complain endlessly, just about anything and everything! Why not focus such energy on giving your best to your work, be part of the team in contributing to a healthy working environment, see and use people strengths and give recognition where deserving.

I hope by sharing this with you, you can see more clearly what you could do to make life more meaningful for you. Focus on what you can control and make the best of it. You’ll find that your footsteps are much lighter and you are able to smile more. You’ll win more friends too!

Alice N.

Posted with WordPress for AN’s BlackBerry.

You Ain’t Heavy, You’re My Husband.

A couple of days back, we celebrated a special man’s birthday. He is the one I married to, 16 years ago, without many courting days. At that time, it felt just right and I felt save and calm, to give him my heart.

Darling, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU!!! On his birthday, he had to work as usual, though it was a public holiday. I understand him very well. When he needs to work, I’ll let him go with my best wishes. I’d like to think of it as a dose of sunshine a day, just like people take vitamins every morning.

I have, since a long time ago, treat everyday as a birthday. Must be the age factor; when one gets older, one treasures the substance in life more than how it looks on the outside. Each day we spend on earth is a gift of life; each day we get to see and feel the presence of our loved ones, is a celebration, each day when we open our eyes to a brand new day is a birth day.

So, it was okay not to have dear hubby with us the whole day, on his official birthday. That gave us some private time to cook up some surprises for him! Moreover, we still have other days. As long as he is happy….

My wish for my big man is, may all dreams come true and that all his hard labor will come to fruition soon. We have come a long, long way and whatever life serves us, good and not-so-good, we receive with open hearts and mind. There is always a good reason behind everything that crosses our paths. You know, Blessing In Disguise? All we need to do is look at the opposite of the bad. There is always an opportunity to learn or to act differently, don’t you agree?

So my dearest hubby, go out with a clear mind and brave heart, to reap what you have sown. We will be right by your sides, always ready to lend you our weights when you need them. We may be smaller but we are all strong to walk with you to the finishing line. You ain’t heavy, you are my husband and father to our children.

Just remember always that you are so loved and thought of all the time. If we can bring the sun to you, we shall not hesitate to fetch it. Since we can’t do that, we shall pour our “sunshine” to warm you when it’s cold outside; we’ll shower you with cool kisses when it is too hot and hug you like soft, comfy blankets when it is hard out there, so that you can let your tired body rest for a while.


~ Alice N.