Get race season ready

With a month left of summer, the cooler weather just in sight and race season calling, are you as prepared as you can be to go into the season with confidence?

We can all agree that not many of us have done much training over the summer, and chosen vacationing in cooler climates over battling the loop in 40+ degree weather.  But no time like the present to get ready for race season. Continue reading “Get race season ready”

Financial Fitness Plan – Education Planning

Last time I gave an overview to the subject of savings and investments. This is a large and potentially complicated area of financial planning, and this month I will focus on planning for your children’s education. While in some countries this cost is met by the state, increasingly parents are having to fund their children’s education, or at the very least contribute to the cost.

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Certainly here in the UAE the vast majority of expatriates will have to pay for their children’s school fees, and indeed it is likely that they will also have to fund any university fees as well. The school fees vary greatly dependent upon the institution, and the choice of school will obviously have an impact on the amount that will be required to pay for the education that your child receives.

While the fees that are levied are closely monitored in the UAE by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), the fees have and are likely to increase in excess of the rate of inflation, and so the real of cost of education is only going to increase. In addition, secondary and university fees will be more expensive that primary education.

shutterstock_77732884Therefore it is vital that school fees are taken into account as part of your overall financial plan so that you are not faced with some potentially difficult financial decisions in the future. When considering your options, and formulating a plan, I would recommend that you consider what parts of your child’s education you wish to plan for. School generally starts around age 4 or 5, so this does not leave much time to start planning unless you are very organised! Also as this education is generally the least expensive, often this can be funded from general income.

If wish to prepare for secondary education, then you will have at least ten years to put a plan in place, and obviously for university, you will have up to eighteen years to prepare. These timescales should allow you build a significant amount of money that can cover most if not all of your child’s education costs.

As with most aspects of financial planning, the sooner you start planning, the easier it is likely to be to build the amount of money that you need. It can be quite difficult to work out how much you are likely to need, and for what course you may end up funding, but most colleges and universities publish their current fees and so with some inflation assumptions, you can start to work out how much you will need.

Once this is established, we can assist with calculating how much you will need to contribute on a regular basis to build the required fund. How much this grows by obviously depends on a number of factors, such as your attitude to risk, and what investments are selected, which is no different from other forms of financial planning, but once you know what you are aiming for it helps to focus the plan. Even if the exact amount is not met, there should still be a significant sum accumulated that will help towards the fees that will need to be paid.

With the right plan in place, and as many unknown factors removed from the equation, your children’s education solution can be tailored to your needs, and the earlier it is started the more time and therefore the more change you will have of meeting yours and indeed your children’s goals.

As with all financial plans, this should be reviewed on a regular basis and revised as and when necessary. Next time I will look at retirement planning. If you have any queries please do not hesitate to contact me at jthomas@acuma.ae or on 0508543983.

 

Financial Fitness Plan – Savings and investments  

 

Last time we looked at why you should have an emergency fund and cash reserves, and how best to manage these. In the next part of the Acuma financial fitness plan, I will focus on savings and investments.

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This is a huge area of planning, and arguably the one that most people spend the most amount of time planning for – sometimes to the detriment of other areas of financial planning. When we refer to savings and investments what do we mean? Generally this is referring to longer term savings, which may be for a particular goal or aim, such as retirement, children’s education, or property purchase. How long the term is will obviously depend on your age, and what goal you are looking to save for, but as a guide it is generally for 5 years or more so that the investment has a chance to grow, and shorter term market movements start to be filtered out by longer term market trends.

investment-optionsThe key difference is that rather than simply saving into a bank account, the savings are placed into other asset classes. There are a huge number of assets that can be invested into, with the most popular being equities, bonds, property and precious metals. All of these assets have their pro’s and con’s and often personal preference will decide which to invest into.

I generally advocate a well-balanced, diversified portfolio that takes into account all of these and indeed many other asset classes. In the 15 years that I have been involved in this industry it has been almost impossible to predict which asset class is going to perform best, and so having a small amount in many is the best way to smooth out the peaks and troughs that can come with investing.

Establishing what is the right investment for you is vital to ensure that your money is invested in the right place, and that you are comfortable with where it is invested. To do this we need to work out what your attitude to risk is. There is no right or wrong answer and it will vary between all investors. Attitude to risk simply means how much volatility you are willing to accept with your money in return for the potential for higher returns.

Another way to look at it is predictability. If you leave your money in the bank the returns are very predictable – an amount of interest will be added each year, but it is often quite a small amount. So to try and improve that number you may have a less predictable return, but hopefully one that is higher – and generally the longer you are able to invest for, the better the returns will be.

There are two main ways to invest – on a monthly basis and by way of a lump sum. It is often the case that you may have a different view on regular saving to lump sum investment – investors can be keener to take more risk with a regular contribution but with a lump sum are more concerned with maintaining the initial investment, so wish to be more cautious.

This is obviously a brief guide to savings and investments, but I hope that this has given an insight into what to consider, and the right solution will depend on your personal circumstances. Next time I will look at in more detail at saving for education. If you have any queries please do not hesitate to contact me at jthomas@acuma.ae or on 0508543983.

Financial Fitness Plan – Emergency Funds & Cash Reserves

Moving further through the Acuma financial fitness plan, this time I will focus on emergency funds and cash reserves. By way of brief recap, we have now considered how to manage debt and why a will and putting protection in place is crucial for your financial well-being.

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Emergency funds – what do I mean by this? This is simply having a buffer of available cash so that in the event of being hit by an unexpected bill or cost, you have the cash available to pay for it. I am not referring to normal monthly expenses but something that is out of the ordinary, such as having to book a flight home, or an issue with your car, or maybe an issue at home. All things that you hadn’t normally budgeted for, and could upset your cash flow if you are not careful.

By having an emergency fund that is readily available, this means that you can cope with these unexpected surprises and deal with them without having to resort to borrowing money and potentially amplifying the issue with additional interest.

 

E fundWhen I say readily available, by this I mean that the money is in a bank account that is immediately accessible, and can be accessed easily. Now this means that you need to show some level of restraint, as it can be easy to dip into this money for other purposes and find yourself short of funds at the worst possible moment.

How much should this amount be? I recommend between three to six months’ salary, so that it is enough to cover most eventualities, but not be so much that you feel like it is simply money sitting around. Indeed a question that is often asked is where should I put this money? Should I invest it? But the purpose of the emergency fund is to be immediately available and not be invested into anything that can fluctuate in value, as it generally the case that when you need the money most is the most inappropriate time to sell an asset.

Following on from the emergency fund is the cash reserve. These can be one and the same, but while it is best to have the emergency fund in a no notice type bank account where there is little or no interest paid, money above and beyond this can be placed into accounts that offer better interest rates. Generally in return for these increased returns there is often a notice period applied to these accounts, or they be for a fixed period of time, and if you need to break the term you will be penalised. This shouldn’t be an issue, as these funds should need to be called upon urgently, and so can be managed in a more structured way.

There is no guideline as to how much cash you should have in reserve, as it will be depend on an individual’s personal circumstances, what their longer term plans are, and indeed their attitude to risk. If the money is not needed for any particular purchase then other longer term strategies could be considered as a source for improved returns.

As with all investments, as the amounts involved grow, it is wise to consider diversifying where the money is held, and especially for expatriates, consider an offshore account, so that large amounts do not get caught up with any Sharia’h law issues should anything happen to the account holders.

As with most aspects of financial planning, the right emergency fund and cash reserve will depend on your personal circumstances. Next time I will look at savings and investments. If you have any queries please do not hesitate to contact me at jthomas@acuma.ae or on 0508543983.