Monday, 3 November 2014

Postloop: Share Your Views and Make Money

We all need to take control of our financial future in a way that doesn't rely on your employer, the government or Lady Luck.

So I've been looking around at various ways to make money online, many of which I'll share over time on this blog.

One site that I've recently joined is Postloop. Essentially, it calls itself a "content marketplace" and it allows you to earn money by posting comments on forums and blogs. It's as simple as that. I didn't even realise this kind of industry existed. Clearly it does.

From my initial outings, it seems to be one of the more straightforward ways to make money in the online space. You write a bit, you get paid. You write a lot, you get paid more.

Yes, you've got to qualify before you can start to build up points to convert into dollars. But that's pretty easy. Once that's out of the way, I reckon it’s actually quite easy to make a few dollars here and there. As with everything, you get out what you put in.

It's not a get rich quick scheme. I don't even think it's a get rich slow scheme either. It's simply a useful supplement to other income generators you may have. And if you're going to be online anyway it seems to make sense to pop into the site. 

Does it pay out? Yes. At least it has for me a few times. Make sure you have a PayPal account to take your payments.

That's it.

If it intrigues you enough, take a look at Postloop - what's it about?

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Television and The Benefits of Benefits

Television. You have a lot to answer for.

Yesterday, I caught for the first time a programme called ‘Benefits Britain: Life On The Dole’
Essentially, it’s a series that follows a group of British people that survive (and sometimes thrive) by claiming benefits from the government. There have been similar documentaries of late aimed at shining a light on the system and exposing those they believe are abusing it.

Now, it’s very easy to judge, to criticize, to be downright angry at some of what you see (which is exactly what the programme makers are hoping for). And while I do tend to avoid such sensationalist and skewed viewing, it did serve a purpose for me. It wasn't specifically to do with financial advice. I was actually judging, criticizing and downright angry at times. I’m not especially proud of my reactions as my left-leaning sensibilities still took the bait. But, at the same time, it was kind of good. You see, it brought out emotions. Real emotions. It wasn’t just me passively accepting what I was watching. It made me more aware of values and principles that I actually believed in. It helped bring into the open some of my views on money – whether they are ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, or I choose to change any of them is up to me. But at least I know what they are.

If you spend all your time watching people that look, sound and smell like you, it can be a lot harder to realise what exactly you’re passionate about. So the programme certainly got the blood pumping. Yes, it was staged. And, no, it certainly isn’t going to be representative of the vast majority of claimants in the UK. But it did get me thinking about my own biases and prejudices. What did I take from it? In no particular order:

                    Don’t assume the State will support you forever. The system was set up to provide a safety net, and it’s not meant to be milked simply because ‘you can’. Most people don't see it as a piggy bank. Unfortunately, there are those that do.
                    Cigarettes and dogs aren’t priority expenses. Not being a big fan of either, I struggled to connect with those people (and there were many) that complained they didn’t have enough money, yet still decided to buy a dog and puffed away on Marlboro Lights all day. Maybe it’s just me and my prism on the world, but choosing cigarettes over food didn't add up to me.
                    The blame game is a dangerous one. Sometimes circumstances really do conspire against you and finding work to pay the bills really is tough.  But when the economy, the foreigners, the Conservative Government, the bankers, the Chinese imports, the ‘posh’, and so on, get targeted I do wonder. It was a lot easier for some to play the victim than to take responsibility.
                    You’ve got to start somewhere. Not all job opportunities are good. Some don’t pay well. Some really are as dull as dishwater. But if you have little to show on your CV or resume, sometimes you really do have to just start somewhere. It may not be glamorous. It may be difficult financially. But if you want to improve your financial story long term, you need to take the first step and start somewhere.


There are obviously other issues to consider (such as structural poverty, the education system, bad luck). But that’s my hat in the ring. Not everyone will agree. I hope they don’t. It’s time for a healthy discussion about society, respective responsibilities and how to finance it.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Knowing My Financial DNA

Awareness remains a core pillar of personal development. So I was intrigued to see what insights would come to the surface when I looked into my Financial DNA. Hugh Massie’s programme is all about “discovering your unique financial personality for a quality life”. 

It’s really about becoming more aware of your blind spots and behavioural dynamics that are either holding you back or moving you forward financially. It’s packaged as primarily a tool for personal finance but, boy, it’s a real eye opener for how you look at life in general.

So what did I find out? Well, according to insights outlined in my ‘Natural Behaviour Discovery’ assessment, I am by nature a Community Builder. It says I’m all about cooperation and harmony, while being easy going, receptive, uncomplaining and forgiving. My ‘Strengths’ within this context are that I’m satisfied with the status quo, I’m focused on a balanced life, I’m approachable, I want to create a steady environment, and I allow open dialogue. Yep, I kind of assumed a fair bit of that so I’m not going to question it.

What intrigued me more, however, were what were termed as my ‘Struggles’ (or ‘Weaknesses’ to you and me). These showed that I was prone to complacency, prone to stay in my comfort zone, and that I may not set boundaries. 

Although my initial reaction was a mixture of annoyance and denial, it wasn’t long before I actually felt some relief. I’ve always talked about the concept of “growth”, whether that’s to do with personal finance or broader life itself, but have often struggled to make inroads.
Deep down I knew some of these issues all along but I was always willing to ignore, excuse or blame instead of address. It’s not that I’ll be able to change my behaviours overnight. Not much hope of that. 

But now that it’s out there in front of me on a printed piece of paper, with my name on it, I can actually stop pretending and can start using tools and strategies to make it easier for these areas to be less limiting. So whether we’re talking about finance or some other strand of your developmental story, this assessment provides an interesting insight.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Money: Kids Will Be Kids

I sometimes wonder whether the “what do I want to be when I grow up?” conversations that kids have now are really much changed from a generation or two ago. You’ll still have the aspiring doctors, lawyers, teachers and the like. You’ll also have those dreaming to make it big in the realms of sports and music. Some will always be in it for the glory. But I also think that an increasing number of kids, for whatever reason, are caught up by the allure of the dollar signs. Let's face it, it's not hard to find role models, good and bad, that represent the fame and fortune associated with these fields.

When I was growing up there wasn’t much money to be had in football. At the end of their careers footballers would retire and just open a country pub, not try to buy a football franchise in the US. Rugby and athletics were all about the glory of performing as amateurs, not signing huge contracts with benevolent French rugby clubs or winning gold bars for a successful athletics season. And while there was always something aspirational within the music scene (think: Duran Duran hanging out on a catamaran in their video for ‘Rio’), music was never as graphic in its depiction of the necessity for fast cars, bling and a ‘Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ culture.
But it is what it is and you can't try to hold back the tide just because you're from a different generation. Still, in my eyes there's a clear need to embed strong personal finance principles into the education system from an early age so that kids can establish a healthy relationship with money. Promoting an awareness, as highlighted by recent efforts by the Charles Schwab Foundation to teach basic financial literacy to 13 to 18 year olds, should hopefully be just a first step to future generations becoming more cognizant with handling their personal finances.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

It's A Lottery

According to a recent survey commissioned by Liverpool Victoria Insurance, something like 3.6 million people in the UK are relying on winning the UK national lottery to fund their retirement. That’s a lot of people pinning their personal finance hopes on the concept of possibility (and an unlikely one at that) rather than building better probabilities for their future. 

Coincidentally, according to Cracked.com, 5% of lottery ticket buyers buy 51% of all tickets sold in the US. But we can't all be like Joan Ginther, a Texan woman that won four lottery jackpots.

Just as scary was the number of people who were hoping to finance their future on the chance of becoming famous. About 10% of the people in the Liverpool Victoria survey were sure that they would find the fame to bring the fortune. 

Pinning your hopes on unlikely outcomes aren’t a great way to manage your risk-reward picture, even if there are books that have strategies on how to win. While the solutions might seem a tad misplaced, the reality is there are a great deal of people that are too scared, confused or overly complacent to find suitable answers to the prevailing questions – what do I need for my retirement and how am I going to get there?  

Sometimes you just need a bit of nudging and guidance, whether it's from a good friend or even through a financial coach.

Regularly putting aside money in savings and investment plans may not have the whizz-bang excitement of seeing your six numbers come up on lottery night or winning the X Factor but, quite frankly, taking the boring route to securing your financial future is going to be a hell of a lot more reliable.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

By The Rivers Of Babylon

It's always worth looking back to the wise men and women of old for a bit of inspiration. Today, I'm going to simply reflect on The Richest Man In Babylon, a book published in 1926. It's all about teaching simple lessons in finance through a collection of parables set in ancient Babylon. It's a classic book on financial advice.

Well, we're not in ancient Babylon any more. So I managed to track down a revised version of the book (or The Richest Man In Babylon For Today). It may lack some of the mystique and aura of its predecessor, but it applies some basic principles relevant for the current day. Worth remembering:
  1. Pay yourself first
  2. Develop a budget
  3. Pay off debts
  4. Start looking for ways to put your money to work
  5. Accept risk, but be careful
  6. Don’t procrastinate
  7. Invest in your home
  8. Invest in your retirement savings
  9. Invest in yourself
  10. Prepare your “Walls of Babylon” – i.e. have a will, life and health insurance etc.
Apply these principles and you'll be on your way.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Getting To Know You

Many financial problems faced later in life can be avoided if individuals are provided with proper personal finance solutions from their earlier years. Unfortunately, a lot of these solutions are learned “on the job” at home, or via your peers at school or in your community. And, let's face it, for many parents money is another taboo subject - many simply avoid the conversations as they don't really have their own houses in order. 

“Knowing yourself” in relation to personal finance is partly about getting to know your ideal outcomes in life – the “why” behind the need to have and manage your money. Decide what you want money for. Financial needs do change as life ticks along, but we have to at least have a think about it.

If your goal is to live by yourself in a shack without any trappings of modern life, surviving on mung beans, then so be it. As long as you’re not hurting yourself or anyone else, it’s no one else’s business as to how you choose to live. Some know where they're going, the rest of us should just focus on the process of getting to know. Whatever you do decide, just learn to fund that lifestyle accordingly.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Personal Finance - Where To Start

There’s such a lot of information on personal finance out there; some good, some less so. But don’t allow yourself to be overwhelmed. You’ve got to start somewhere. And starting with yourself is as good a place as any.

Having a sense of where you are at this point in time and what you want in the future can play a big part in achieving success in yourpersonal finances.

Spend enough time to know yourself that you find a formula that works for you - i.e. that allows you to not obsess over money, fear its loss, or take risks you cannot tolerate.  Look at how your own mind works, and let money flow to those aspects that make your life more dynamic and creative.

So look at today as your start line. 

It doesn't matter what you have done so far in your life, it doesn't matter whether you have a professional qualification or how you look. It also doesn't matter what the markets are doing, nor what everyone else is doing. It’s about you taking control of your actions, applying the right structure, attitude and behavior to take your financial story forward. As long as you are prepared to put the time and energy into improving your condition, whether you do that by yourself or via financial coaching, you can do ok.

Friday, 4 April 2014

How To Become A Millionaire

Ok, so I’ve got your attention….

It still fascinates me as to how the concept of being a “millionaire” is still so ingrained in our lexicon, regardless of where we are in the world and despite it not being “what it used to be”. Thanks to the cost of living, a million of anything just won’t go so far these days. Gone is the cachet and security that used to come with it. It’s still referenced in all parts of popular culture, whether we’re talking TV programmes, books or films, but the reality is that number has had better days.
And it doesn’t matter whether you are thinking in terms of 1 million US dollars or 1 million Zimbabwean dollars (about US$2,750 if you were wondering), it should all really come back to the same basic question: “Why?”.

A lot of us (and I include myself in this) get elements of our personal finance and life the wrong way round. We think up a number, a target and assume that if that amount was sitting in our bank account, everything would be sorted. It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking US$1m or US$10m, it just doesn’t work that way. Yes, having a large stash of cash sitting waiting for you can give you more choice, but we all know that doesn’t guarantee happiness. Lottery winners going bankrupt is more than just ironic. It’s sad. At the end of the day, living the life you want to live is the important thing here.

There’s nothing wrong with aspiring to having nice stuff, but just for a second shift your focus from wanting the millionaire or multi-millionaire lifestyle (whatever that entails) and just get clearer on your“why?”. Are your deepest desires being met with the trappings? Is your inner voice speaking in tune with the choices being made? Your “why?” could well be to do with security or the ability to do what you want, when you want. There’s no judgement here. Only you will know. But once you decide what exactly is important to you and what you need to meet that need, you may look at that figure slightly differently.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

A Line In The Sand

I've thought long and hard about this blog in recent weeks.

It started out a few years ago now, partly with the hope of spreading a bit of cheer but often with the aim of simply allowing me to express myself in written form. There have been some good, bad, indifferent and amazing blogs along the way. Some have been heart-felt, some have been self-indulgent. Some days I've been so inspired it almost hurt, other times I've had to try my hardest just to squeeze out a collection of words to form sentences simply to keep the thing ticking over. Hopefully, once in a while it turned a frown "upside down", or provided the occasional bit of insight to the casual reader.

But from today I'm going to change things slightly. There's been a bit of downtime since parting ways with my employer last year, and I've had a lot of time to think about "stuff". I've struggled to be consistently inspired and haven't really offered up (in my view) everything I have to offer. I'm still all about personal development, championing those wanting to following their dreams, finding those insights in life that take you down those less travelled roads. But I wanted to bring something new to the table. Personal finance.

"Yawn", I hear you cry. "Aren't there already dozens upon dozens of finance blogs teaching you tips on saving money with Groupon, how to retire early and what stocks to buy in a deflationary environment?" I guess there are. But I just want to throw my two cents into the mix. Or maybe that should be 'two pence', because I'm actually British - and that's part of the point. I may have lived in the US in the past but I have no idea about Roth IRAs or the intricacies of IRS jurisdictions, something which I'm happy to leave to US bloggers.

I'm just a guy that has worked in finance for a number of years, lived in a few different countries, was brought up in poverty (both materially and of thought), and have always had an interest in what makes people tick (both materially and in thought). I like to think in real world generalities that (hopefully) anyone can relate to - whether you're in Anchorage or Zanzibar. Personal finance is simply an extension of what went before only, again hopefully, with a bit more substance for readers to work with.

So, over time, this blog will change a fair bit but I'd like to think there will still be one constant to it all. Me.