Embracing Minimalism

Living a simpler and less cluttered life is gaining fans around the world. Here’s some key trends.

1. Tiny living

Rapidly growing global populations mean homes are getting smaller – from micro apartments, re-purposed shipping containers to tiny houses.  But, living small does not have to mean living in a cramped space, with designers increasingly focused on maximising every inch of space.

Sydney architect Spencer Jones says today there are many design elements that can be used to maximise space.

“In cities like Paris where living spaces are very small, people often have made-to-measure, full-height joinery to store as much as they can and leave the rest of the floor empty.

“Designers are also taking inspiration from caravan or boat architecture, using spaces for multiple functions. We are seeing more bedrooms that double as living and dining spaces, multi-function furniture and the use of mezzanine floors in smaller spaces.”

2. Mindful consumption

Australian consumers tend to have high consumption habits. Yet research by Santander Trade also finds we are increasingly concerned with our health and the environment, which is helping to drive a trend towards more mindful purchases.

If you are aiming to become a more mindful consumer, here are some tips to get started:

  • Shop for locally produced and made products instead of imported goods.
  • Buy secondhand from charity shops or online listings. Older or vintage items are usually better quality and will last longer.
  • Choose eco-friendly goods made from recyclable materials.

3. Decluttering

According to blogger Joshua Becker, of lifestyle blog Becoming Minimalist, there are many benefits to owning fewer possessions – less to clean, less debt, less to organise, less stress and more money.

One method Becker recommends to declutter your home is the ’12-12-12 Challenge’. Find 12 items to throw away, 12 items to donate and 12 items to be returned to their proper home.

Summary

Our living, shopping and lifestyle habits have moved on considerably from the 80s and 90s when conspicuous consumption was the norm. Today’s consumers are discovering that living with less can not only help the environment and our pockets but can also help to reduce our stress levels too.

My Top Financial Tip

If there’s one tip I’m constantly asked for, it’s what’s the best way to get on top of your finances?  And for me, that’s easy to answer – “Live Within Your Means!”  Good money management boils down to harnessing the cash flow and getting on top of debt – with the biggest gremlin being credit cards.

If the word ‘budget’ annoys you and has you running for the door, try ‘spending plan’ instead.  A budget/plan should be divided between fixed regular costs (those you MUST meet) and discretionary spending (the WANTS and nice to have stuff.)

Work out first what it costs for mortgage or rent payments, food, clothing, utility bills and loans.  This means you’ll have a much better idea of where you stand and how much you are spending on fun stuff like entertainment and non-essentials.

Losing the credit cards should be a top priority.  Learning that if you can’t afford it now, you can’t have it, is a great skill to take through life.  That’s not to say lay-buy or payment plans can’t work, but we need to move on from the ‘I want it now’ mentality.

Learn what you’re capable of when you’ve got less commitments like interest payments for items you’ve forgotten that you’ve even bought.  You may be pleasantly surprised at what you can achieve with better spending and saving habits.

Did you know, that if you’re 25 and have a nest egg of around $5000 and you’re able to save $50 – $75 a week at around 7% average interest (compounding over the long-term) you could have yourself a cool $1 million by retirement at 65?  It might be a while off, but it does highlight the opportunity cost of spending around $200 to $300 a month on eating out, movies, drinks and ‘stuff.’  Add that to your compulsory super and that’s not a bad way to enjoy post-work life.

Most however don’t really start thinking about retirement until they’re 40 plus and suddenly realise they’re half way through their working life and have been wasting the ready for over 20 years.  It’s time to analyse those poor financial habits now!

Reducing debt and saving as much as possible is imperative if you want to maintain a certain standing of living both now, and when you retire, and living within your means makes life a lot easier.  Life without ongoing financial stresses also helps you sleep easier now. Chances are, the Centrelink age pension will be harder and harder to come by and eventually disappear.

It’s up to us to take charge of our financial future, and the sooner, the better.  Living within your means from now, is vital.  Are you?

Kids and Money

I think the education system needs a massive overhaul and is ripe for disruption.  No longer are we children of the British Empire training to be clerks in far flung places.  We’re a part of mass globalisation (whether we like it or not) and need the skills to be able to cope with the brave and constantly evolving new world.

No longer do we need to graduate being fluent in Algebra, all over Pythagoras’s theorem, knowing how to dissect a frog, being able to wrangle a Bunsen burner or able to recite Romeo & Juliet (Ok, maybe that.)

What we need is a mass of life skills – how to open bank accounts, understanding medicare and health insurance, learning when and how to switch off from devices and social media, defensive driving courses, how to cope with moods and emotions (our own and others,) getting job ready, learning about business and how to run a home.  You know, real world stuff.

And teaching kids about money is vitally important.  Yet often, we haven’t been taught ourselves to pass those lessons on.  Sometimes we’ve had to learn the hard way, but sometimes we wish we’d known a lot more a lot earlier.

Money permeates every part of what we do.  We work to earn money to make and living and a life.  We need it to put a roof over our head, food on the table, buy the shirt on our back, fund the phone and pay for those holidays and hobbies we want along the way.  Yet few of us know that insuring our income should be our top priority for without it, we can’t fund the rest of our lives.

We also seem to be moving ever closer to a cashless society.  Money is becoming invisible in the digital age.  (My sister tells me I’m considered a vagrant because you’re supposed to have at least 40 cents in your purse for a phone call, which I rarely do – but seeing I have a very capable mobile, I really don’t see the need!)  How much harder for children to understand the value when it’s not even a physical commodity anymore!

Fortunately, there’s also a lot of tools online now available to help.  Start talking to your children about money when you head to an ATM or you withdraw cash at the supermarket, even when writing up a shopping list.  Tell them how many hours you had to work to buy that week’s groceries and how banks and lenders give you money for big purchases but charge you extra for the privilege. Discuss online purchases and how to handle them securely and explain the difference between our needs and our wants.  Make it real and understandable in words they can comprehend and appropriate to their age.

Explain the relationship between leaving the lights on and the power bill you receive. Help them work out their first budget when they start work.  Do they need to pay board, cover debt, give to a charity, save for their first big purchase, make sure they put aside for petrol, registration and insurance?  Open lines of communication can be started with basic concepts introduced as early as preschool.

So, don’t leave it to the education system.  Be your babies first line of financial defense in the world that awaits them.

Get it Together!

There’s so many things that fall into the too hard basket!  Life is busy and there’s so many other priorities!  Just making it through each day and falling into bed at night is a good day’s work for a lot of people.

But, when a tragedy befalls someone near and dear to us, we often see the fallout when people don’t have their sh*t together.  I’m often approached for insurances or to update beneficiaries of a super fund prompted by the life events that happened to ‘someone else.’

So what are the main areas to ‘get on top of’ when it’s time to get your act together?

Here’s my top tips!

  • Make sure your Will is current and reflects your wishes
  • Ensure you have appointed Powers of Attorney – Enduring and Medical
  • Make sure beneficiaries are nominated on Superannuation & Insurance Policies
  • Consolidate those Superannuation funds that you have lying around – or keep them if they have vital insurances
  • Ensure assets are owned correctly and your bank accounts are in order
  • Check over your Insurance Policies – especially Life, TPD, Trauma and Income Protection – are the levels of cover enough?
  • Bring the people who’ll be involved in sorting out your Estate up to date with your wishes
  • Ensure tax returns are up to date and completed annually – personally and for your business entities
  • If you have a partner or family, make them aware of what you’d like to happen
  • Let a couple of different people know where your important documents are stored in the event of the unexpected

Life changes.  Partners can come and go, children grow up and live their own lives, grandchildren arrive and significant people can waltz in and out of our lives.  It may be hassle to work through the list, and yes, some of it may be costly, but if you truly love those you’re leaving behind, one of the best gifts you can leave, is to have your sh*t together.

You really don’t want the crazy ex to benefit from your estate when your gorgeous new partner will be left destitute because you didn’t take the time to update your paperwork!

So, set a date to every year, ensure everything is just how you want it.  It could be on a birthday, an anniversary or at the turn of the calendar or financial year.  Get each area finalised then run an annual check to make sure they still reflect what you’d like to happen when you’re not there to arrange it.

I’ll bet there’s a few people who’ll be very thankful you did.

 

The Truth About Cats and Dogs

Did you know that 3 in 5 households in Australia own a pet?  38% of us are dog owners, 29% have a cat, 12% fish, 12% birds and 9% some other animal like reptiles, bunnies (not for Queenslanders!) or guinea pigs.

Mostly, we love our furry friends for the companionship they give us – that undying love and having someone who actually wants to see us waiting at home every night!  Others buy to teach the kids responsibility and some to keep them fit and active.

But there’s plenty of good reasons why we don’t own pets as well!  Some don’t want the responsibility, others don’t have a home that’s suitable or aren’t allowed by their body corp.  But a very large reason comes down to cost!

Have you every had to weigh up the average cost of pet ownership to see if it’s for you, or don’t know where to start?

According to one source, the average cost of owing a dog annually is around $1,475 and a cat around $1,029.  Fish would be lucky to set us back $50, depending on how luxurious our tank is, and a bird around $115 per year.

Pet insurance is still in its infancy with only one in four dog owners having cover (costing approx. $293 p/a) and one in five cat owners taking out cover (approx. $246 p/a.)

Pet insurance isn’t always available if your furry friend is getting on in  years and some breeds are dearer than others to insure.  You’ll also need to check what’s covered as some  routine check-ups, desexing and dental may not be insured events.

Having three pets, I’d decided against pet insurance, but when my English Staffy did her patella in last year, needed medication and X-rays and then emergency desexing, the average costs went out the window!  Having said that, it certainly paid to shop around with one vet offering a service for $4,000 that another did for $1,200 – and very well thankfully!

The kids were not prepared to let their beloved dog suffer or be put down and were happy to pitch in to cover the costs.

So, if you’re counting the pennies, it’s definitely worth weighing up the costs before taking the plunge into being the resident human for your new fur love.  But if you adore your fur babies more than anything, cost is hardly likely to be a factor in your pet ownership adventures.

Sources: Pet Ownership in Australia 2016 (Animal Medicines Australia) and Pet Insurance Australia, 2015.