Seven Cures for a Lean Purse

1. Make your purse – or wallet – get fatter.

That doesn’t mean filling it with receipts for all the items you’ve bought with your credit card. It means, fill your purse with money. And the best way to do that is to spend less than you earn. This cure follows from the first law of gold that we looked at last week: aim to save 10% of your income. Minimum. Save more than that if you can. Save for the long term, for your mortgage deposit or pension, depending on where you are in life. If you need to save for short to medium term things, such as a holiday or car, that should be in addition to and separate from the 10%+ that you save for your long-term needs.

Your 10% can include your pension contributions, ISAs, premium bonds or any kind of high interest/restricted access savings account. With compound interest, your purse will get very plump over the coming months and years, even if interest rates remain low.

2. Control your expenditure.

If you’re going to save at least 10% of your income for the long-term, you must make sure that your current spending is no more than 90% of your income. This means wherever you are on the income scale, you’ll need to apply some self-discipline when it comes to treating yourself and your loved ones.

For a start, keep your credit card(s) for emergency use only, and if you do use them, pay them off before you start racking up interest. Similarly, avoid taking out loans, unless you can justify the interest you’ll end up paying for that privilege. A car acquired on one of the popular leasing schemes can be justified if it’s essential for your work or business. But a loan for a holiday? Staycation would be a better choice. Learn to distinguish between wants and needs. A roof over your head and food on the table are needs; a month in the Maldives is a desire. Treat yourself to that when you have saved 10% of your income for a year or two and you can afford to fly off to paradise without dipping into those savings.

The secret to controlling your expenditure is to build a budget and then stick to it. If you have Microsoft Excel you can download a template to help you track your spending over a week or month. You can also find ready-made templates on the internet or apps for your phone. Work out how much you spend on mortgage, rent, travel to work etc. and set yourself limits on items such as eating out, entertainment, travel etc. This will help you keep below 90% of your income.

3. Make your money multiply.

You are looking for steady returns over the long-term, not a lottery win. What you need is a steady increase in your capital, your core wealth, such as compound interest from an ISA or savings account, or – more risky – dividends from shares you hold in well-managed companies, including your employer, if they have an employee share ownership scheme. If you are not an expert in financial products and investment vehicles, find someone who is. Don’t make any commitments until you talk to a professional financial adviser. Explain what your investment goals are and ask them to help you develop a plan for realising achieving them.

4. Guard yourself from loss.

The sickening nightmare of seeing your dreams of wealth turn to dust as Bitcoin plummets or the bloke you met in the pub the other night disappears with your life savings. One way to guard against loss is to make it an unbreakable rule that you do not touch that core wealth that you are saving and investing for the long-term. Keep a ring of steel around that! If you are tempted to try your luck with Bitcoin or currency trading, only use money that you can afford to lose. That means any money that you have left over after you have saved your 10%, paid the bills and filled your belly. Money that you might otherwise spend on nights out can be handed over to the online bookies, if you can budget for it – see the second cure above. Never use a credit card or a loan for spread betting, gambling or any high risk investments. Before you engage in any high risk investing or betting, though, make sure you have thoroughly researched the field and that you understand what you’re getting into. If online poker is your dream, practice with your mates for match sticks first.

5. Make your home a profitable investment.

Owning your own home (and ideally a few buy to let properties) has become an obsession over the last thirty or forty years. Given the way property prices have ballooned over that time, it makes perfect sense to get on the property ladder as soon as you can, particularly when house prices are increasing at a much faster rate than incomes.

However, be aware that at some point the bubble may burst. Yes, people have been saying that for years and it hasn’t happened yet. But it is becoming increasingly likely that the authorities will take steps to let some of the air out of the property market. Potential measures include revaluing property tax bands and punitive taxes on buy to let properties and properties left empty. A major increase in house building is unlikely to have much impact on house prices by itself, but when combined with the potential tax changes, we could see prices reach a plateau and stay there for some time.

Given all that, the best approach is to find an affordable house or flat in an area where you would like to live for the foreseeable future, bearing in mind such things as local amenities, schools and the journey to work. Think also of the benefits of paying a mortgage and gradually acquiring total ownership (leasehold and freehold issues aside) of your home over 25 or 30 years, compared with being beholden to a landlord who can raise the rent or evict you at a month’s notice, and who will still own the roof over your head despite all the £000s you put in his or her pocket.

If you can’t afford to buy outright in the area where you want to live or work, consider such options as shared ownership and self-build. Check out what schemes are available in the area where you want to live.

If you already own your own home you can use it to generate extra income by taking in a lodger. If you live in a major city, a good source of lodgers is contractors – professional people working on a project local to you who need a place to stay for a few months and don’t want to use hotels. Often they will go home for the weekend so you have the place to yourself. Another option is to take in exchange students. They will usually come in for a week or two. You provide them with a bed, breakfast, a packed lunch and an evening meal, and get paid for doing so. Another option is to use your home for holiday lets while you’re on holiday yourself. This works particularly well if you live in a major city or a historic town.

Even if you rent, take a lodger (if your landlord will allow this) or run a home business (see below). You can still make your home a source of extra income, even if you don’t own it.

Two other things to consider. First, home and contents insurance. Make sure you have adequate cover for the worst that can happen: fire, flood, burglary. Second, if you have a mortgage, look at insuring it against unemployment and illness. Take advice and make sure that any policies you take out are fit for purpose and will pay out if the worst happens.

6. Develop a future income.

Who wouldn’t want to wake up in the morning knowing that whatever happens, they are assured of a steady income for eternity? Well, you can achieve this through your long-term savings, that 10%+ that you put by month after month, year after year.

When you talk to your financial adviser (as you must!) about your saving and investment goals, the first two issues you should focus on are a pension for you (and your partner, if you have one) and providing for your family when you’re no longer around, i.e. life insurance. Your financial adviser should also point you to other investments that can deliver additional income for you and your family, such as ISAs, unit trusts and government bonds.

Your aim is to ensure an adequate income for a long old age. Remember, people are living longer, but not always healthier. It’s not pleasant, I know, but think about the worst that can happen to you (short of an early death). You or your partner become chronically ill or disabled and need long-term care. How will you fund that? If you sell your home what will you leave to your children. This is the kind of issue you need to discuss with a financial adviser. You need a pension, plus other income streams, that will pay for all your needs for perhaps thirty or forty years after you stop working. Develop a plan, implement it, then get on with enjoying life.

7. Increase your ability to earn.

There is no such thing as a job for life anymore. These days, even professional occupations such as lawyer, accountant and insurance underwriter are threatened with automation and off-shoring. So, it makes sense to develop additional skills that you can make use of if you find yourself out of work.

If you think you’re at risk of being replaced by a robot, you should look very carefully at “future-proofing” your career. Think about jobs that are unlikely to be automated or off-shored in the future. They tend to be ones that involve face to face contact e.g. complementary therapies, nail technician hair stylist, personal trainer, life coach, counsellor. Also, jobs where a local presence is essential: electrician, plumber, lock-smith, builder.

Of course, many of these jobs are relatively low-paid and are in highly competitive sectors. That means you need to find a unique selling point: something you do that no one else does, or no one else does as well as you. Focus on something you are genuinely interested in – or better still, passionate about – and that you know you can be brilliant at. Be realistic about the potential income, the competition and the time and energy needed to make it work. Unless you already have experience in your chosen field, you will need to devote a lot of time, and perhaps money, to acquiring the necessary skills and certifications. You will also need to decide how you will operate: sole trader, limited company, franchise? Take advice before committing yourself to anything.

A popular option for generating extra income is online selling. Even if you’re in full time work and happy with your income, you can try it in your spare time and get a feel for what’s involved. A regular declutter will reveal all sorts of things you can sell: clothes, DVDs, mobile phones, unwanted presents. If you enjoy online selling, you could develop a successful business without risking your core capital.

Apply the Seven Cures diligently and you will place yourself firmly on the road to greater wealth and peace of mind.

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The Wild West Crypto Show Continues

Here is a question that comes up often: How do I choose which crypto currency to invest in – aren’t they all the same?

There is no doubt that Bitcoin has captured the lion’s share of the crypto currency (CC) market, and that is largely due to its FAME. This phenomenon is much like what is happening in national politics around the world, where a candidate captures the majority of votes based on FAME, rather than any proven abilities or qualifications to govern a nation. Bitcoin is the pioneer in this market space and continues to garner almost all of the market headlines. This FAME does not mean that it is perfect for the job, and it is fairly well known that Bitcoin has limitations and problems that need to be resolved, however, there is disagreement in the Bitcoin world on how best to resolve the problems. As the problems fester, there is ongoing opportunity for developers to initiate new coins that address particular situations, and thus distinguish themselves from the approximately 1300 other coins in this market space. Let’s look at two Bitcoin rivals and explore how they differ from Bitcoin, and from each other:

Ethereum (ETH) – The Ethereum coin is known as ETHER. The main difference from Bitcoin is that Ethereum uses “smart contracts” which are account holding objects on the Ethereum blockchain. Smart Contracts are defined by their creators and they can interact with other contracts, make decisions, store data, and send ETHER to others. The execution and services they offer are provided by the Ethereum network, all of which is beyond what the Bitcoin or any other blockchain network can do. Smart Contracts can act as your autonomous agent, obeying your instructions and rules for spending currency and initiating other transactions on the Ethereum network.

Ripple (XRP) – This coin and the Ripple network also have unique features that make it much more than just a digital currency like Bitcoin. Ripple has developed the Ripple Transaction Protocol (RTXP), a powerful financial tool that allows exchanges on the Ripple network to transfer funds quickly and efficiently. The basic idea is to place money in “gateways” where only those who know the password can unlock the funds. For financial institutions this opens up huge possibilities, as it simplifies cross-border payments, reduces costs, and provides transparency and security. This is all done with creative and intelligent use of blockchain technology.

The mainstream media is covering this market with breaking news stories almost every day, however, there is little depth to their stories… they are mostly just dramatic headlines.

The Wild West show continues…

The 5 stocks crypto/blockchain picks are up an average of 109% since December 11/17. The wild swings continue with daily gyrations. Yesterday we had South Korea and China the latest to try to shoot down the boom in cryptocurrencies.

On Thursday, South Korea’s justice minister, Park Sang-ki, sent global bitcoin prices temporarily plummeting and virtual coin markets into turmoil when he reportedly said regulators were preparing legislation to ban cryptocurrency trading. Later that same day, the South Korea Ministry of Strategy and Finance, one of the main member agencies of the South Korean government’s cryptocurrency regulation task force, came out and said that their department does not agree with the premature statement of the Ministry of Justice about a potential cryptocurrency trading ban.

While the South Korean government says cryptocurrency trading is nothing more than gambling, and they are worried that the industry will leave many citizens in the poor house, their real concern is a loss of tax revenue. This is the same concern every government has.

China has grown into one of the world’s biggest sources of cryptocurrency mining, but now the government is rumoured to be looking into regulating the electric power used by the mining computers. Over 80% of the electrical power to mine Bitcoin today comes from China. By shutting down miners, the government would make it harder for Bitcoin users to verify transactions. Mining operations will move to other places, but China is particularly attractive due to very low electricity and land costs. If China follows through with this threat, there will be a temporary loss of mining capacity, which would result in Bitcoin users seeing longer timers and higher costs for transaction verification.

This wild ride will continue, and much like the internet boom, we will see some big winners, and eventually, some big losers. Also, similar to the internet boom, or the uranium boom, it is those who get in early who will prosper, while the mass investors always show up at the end, buying in at the top.

Stay Tuned!

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Fear Not, China Is Not Banning Cryptocurrency

In 2008 following the financial crisis, a paper titled “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System” was published, detailing the concepts of a payment system. Bitcoin was born. Bitcoin gained the attention of the world for its use of blockchain technology and as an alternative to fiat currencies and commodities. Dubbed the next best technology after the internet, blockchain offered solutions to issues we have failed to address, or ignored over the past few decades. I will not delve into the technical aspect of it but here are some articles and videos that I recommend:

How Bitcoin Works Under the Hood

A gentle introduction to blockchain technology

Ever wonder how Bitcoin (and other cryptocurrencies) actually work?

Fast forward to today, 5th February to be exact, authorities in China have just unveiled a new set of regulations to ban cryptocurrency. The Chinese government have already done so last year, but many have circumvented through foreign exchanges. It has now enlisted the almighty ‘Great Firewall of China’ to block access to foreign exchanges in a bid to stop its citizens from carrying out any cryptocurrency transactions.

To know more about the Chinese government stance, let’s backtrack a couple years back to 2013 when Bitcoin was gaining popularity among the Chinese citizens and prices were soaring. Concerned with the price volatility and speculations, the People’s Bank of China and five other government ministries published an official notice on December 2013 titled “Notice on Preventing Financial Risk of Bitcoin” (Link is in Mandarin). Several points were highlighted:

1. Due to various factors such as limited supply, anonymity and lack of a centralized issuer, Bitcoin is not a official currency but a virtual commodity that cannot be used in the open market.

2. All banks and financial organizations are not allowed to offer Bitcoin-related financial services or engage in trading activity related to Bitcoin.

3. All companies and websites that offer Bitcoin-related services are to register with the necessary government ministries.

4. Due to the anonymity and cross-border features of Bitcoin, organizations providing Bitcoin-related services ought to implement preventive measures such as KYC to prevent money laundering. Any suspicious activity including fraud, gambling and money laundering should to be reported to the authorities.

5. Organizations providing Bitcoin-related services ought to educate the public about Bitcoin and the technology behind it and not mislead the public with misinformation.

In layman’s term, Bitcoin is categorized as a virtual commodity (e.g in-game credits,) that can be bought or sold in its original form and not to be exchanged with fiat currency. It cannot be defined as money- something that serves as a medium of exchange, a unit of accounting, and a store of value.

Despite the notice being dated in 2013, it is still relevant with regards to the Chinese government stance on Bitcoin and as mentioned, there is no indication of the banning Bitcoin and cryptocurrency. Rather, regulation and education about Bitcoin and blockchain will play a role in the Chinese crypto-market.

A similar notice was issued on Jan 2017, again emphasizing that Bitcoin is a virtual commodity and not a currency. In September 2017, the boom of initial coin offerings (ICOs) led to the publishing of a separate notice titled “Notice on Preventing Financial Risk of Issued Tokens”. Soon after, ICOs were banned and Chinese exchanges were investigated and eventually closed. (Hindsight is 20/20, they have made the right decision to ban ICOs and stop senseless gambling). Another blow was dealt to China’s cryptocurrency community in January 2018 when mining operations faced serious crackdowns, citing excessive electricity consumption.

While there is no official explanation on the crackdown of cryptocurrencies, capital controls, illegal activities and protection of its citizens from financial risk are some of the main reasons cited by experts. Indeed, Chinese regulators have implemented stricter controls such as overseas withdrawal cap and regulating foreign direct investment to limit capital outflow and ensure domestic investments. The anonymity and ease of cross-border transactions have also made cryptocurrency a favorite means for money laundering and fraudulent activities.

Since 2011, China has played a crucial role in the meteoric rise and fall of Bitcoin. At its peak, China accounted for over 95% of the global Bitcoin trading volume and three quarters of the mining operations. With regulators stepping in to control trading and mining operations, China’s dominance has shrunk significantly in exchange for stability.

With countries like Korea and India following suit in the crackdown, a shadow is now casted over the future of cryptocurrency. (I shall reiterate my point here: countries are regulating cryptocurrency, not banning it). Without a doubt, we will see more nations join in in the coming months to rein in the tumultuous crypto-market. Indeed, some kind of order was long overdue. Over the past year, cryptocurrencies are experiencing price volatility unheard of and ICOs are happening literally every other day. In 2017, the total market capitalization rose from 18 billion USD in January to an all-time high of 828 billion USD.

Nonetheless, the Chinese community are in surprisingly good spirits despite crackdowns. Online and offline communities are flourishing (I personally have attended quite a few events and visited some of the firms) and blockchain startups are sprouting all over China.

Major blockchain firms such as NEO, QTUM and VeChain are getting huge attention in the country. Startups like Nebulas, High Performance Blockchain (HPB) and Bibox are also gaining a fair amount of traction. Even giants such as Alibaba and Tencent are also exploring the capabilities of blockchain to enhance their platform. The list goes on and on but you get me; it’s going to be HUGGEE!

The Chinese government have also been embracing blockchain technology and have stepped up efforts in recent years to support the creation of a blockchain ecosystem.

In China’s 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2020), it called for the development of promising technologies including blockchain and artificial intelligence. It also plans to strengthen research on the application of fintech in regulation, cloud computing and big data. Even the People’s Bank of China is also testing a prototype blockchain-based digital currency; however, with it likely to be a centralized digital currency slapped with some encryption technology, its adoption by the Chinese citizens remains to be seen.

The launch of the Trusted Blockchain Open Lab as well as the China Blockchain Technology and Industry Development Forum by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology are some of the other initiatives by the Chinese government to support the development of blockchain in China.

A recent report titled ” China Blockchain Development Report 2018″ (English version in the link) by China Blockchain Research Center detailed the development of the blockchain industry in China in 2017 including the various measures taken to regulate cryptocurrency in the mainland. In a separate section, the report highlighted the optimistic outlook of the blockchain industry and the massive attention it has received from VCs and the Chinese government in 2017.

In summary, the Chinese government have shown a positive attitude towards blockchain technology despite its enforcement on cryptocurrency and mining operations. China wants to control cryptocurrency, and China will get control. The repeated enforcements by the regulators were meant to protect its citizens from the financial risk of cryptocurrencies and limit capital outflow. As of now, it is legal for Chinese citizens to hold cryptocurrencies but they are not allowed to carry out any form of transaction; hence the ban of exchanges. As the market stabilizes in the coming months (or years), we will see undoubtedly see a revival of the Chinese crypto-market. Blockchain and cryptocurrency come hand-in-hand (with the exception of private chain where a token is unnecessary). Countries thus cannot ban cryptocurrency without banning blockchain the awesome technology!

One thing we can all agree on is that blockchain is still at its infancy. Many exciting developments awaits us and right now is definitely the best time to lay the foundation for a blockchain-enabled world.

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