Back to School Financial Reviewon Friday, 28 September 2012. Posted in General, Investments
This article was originally posted on the City Weekend Home & Office magazine.
It’s another school year as Shanghai’s heat starts to fade. The kids are going back to school so you naturally consider how are they tracking on their education; but what about your progress? Is your family achieving its financial goals? This is a great time of year to sit down for a full review with your spouse, or with your adviser (or both). When you do so, here is the financial adviser’s bucket list of things to plan, arrange and otherwise consider.
- Debts. Do you pay off your credit cards each month? Are you focused on paying down your debts, starting with the higher rates of interest? Anything with an interest rate of 6% or higher is worth paying down since you are effectively getting a guaranteed 6% rate ofA fully guaranteed return that good is very hard to find.
- Retirement. Do you know what your number is? How much money do you need to be able to retire? For many these days it’s about $3 million for a comfortable retirement, but it can vary by country. Take note that governments in the future are likely to delay and reduce retirement benefits (exploding government debt will force this issue), so the plan should be for an independent retirement. Be no-one’s lackey.
- Education Savings. How much are your children likely to need? Not just course fees, but living costs, their first car and perhaps a kicker into their first property purchase. It all adds up. A good rule of thumb is about $200,000 per child by the age of 22 (in today’s money) once you add them all up.
- Diversification. Most average investors fail this test. Often it’s their property holdings that are the risk because they’re concentrated all in one area. What happens if that area earthquake or flood or hurricane or ground water pollution? Having ball-park of 30% in property, 30% in equities, 20% in bonds and a mix of cash and alternatives should be your aim. Review whether you have more than 30% of your assets in any one area and if there is anything missing in your portfolio?
- Protection. Don’t wait for the car to crash before putting guardrails in place. No one is impervious to un-expected accidents or life-changing events. Ask yourself: Do you have sufficient life insurance of six-eight times your income? Does it cover you while you are overseas? Does the non-working spouse have coverage too? Their efforts to manage and raise a family need to be valued too. Do you have health insurance and understand what to do in an emergency? Do you have wills in place? You need one for each country, or jurisdiction as they say. Do you have assets that would benefit from being placed in a trust? Might be worth talking to an expert on that. Make sure you can confidently answer all these questions, and have policy details in one place and also with a trusted relative or friend back home.
- Knowledge. “A fool and his money are soon parted” as the saying goes, so how are you building your investment knowledge? Do you know what an ETF is? You should since they are the best solution most so-called “Advisers” in this town don’t want you to know about. Do you know what a PE ratio is? How do you pick investments? Financial literacy can help you select better investments and tell the nice from the nasty investment. Remember that knowledge is power, so it’s time to power up the bedside table. Buy a book or two on Amazon. For beginners, good options are Stock Investing for Dummies or The ETF book. For someone more serious, a classic like The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham (Warren Buffett’s mentor) or The Snowball if you prefer your investment advice in biography form.
The list goes on and there are many more topics you should cover when doing a full financial review. To sum up, get focused on your goals and your investments could grow as fast as the Shanghai skyline.