Business

The Future of Business

As businesses struggle to cope with an ever changing world it can be hard to predict what the future holds. In any three month period there are normally dozens of political, economic, social and technological changes which can affect the way we do business. 

In March this year Yahoo produced an interesting article (full article click here) where leading journalists from The Telegraph and social media experts were asked to predict where SMEs would be in the next ten years. An almost impossible task you may think but the results were fascinating. Before they started to think ahead they took the time to look back over the last ten years and realised that SME’s in the UK had dealt with some unprecedented challenges including: Eurozone crisis, birth and explosion of Social Media, growth of online shopping, change of government and VAT rates, collapse of the high street banking industry, natural disasters affecting trade and the optimism of London 2012 Olympics.

In the next ten years businesses will certainly face similar challenges and as legislation increases regarding data protection, online shopping continues to grow and managing personal debt becomes an essential problem to tackle it’s bound to affect trade. Perhaps one of the biggest challenges is the growth of interactive media solutions in the home, touch screen technology and digital devices evolving at home and in the palm of your hand will increase pressure on businesses to perform. 

The evolution of Twitter, Facebook and instant messaging has made consumers more demanding and impatient than ever before. Businesses must monitor these new channels of communication carefully and decide on their approach to ensure they can preserve their reputations, deliver excellent customer service and offer choice and depth of products to satisfy consumer demand. As the world becomes more advanced the ability to source products globally will increase, this in turn will put pressure on UK businesses to ensure they can keep up on a worldwide stage.

So what can we conclude from these predictions? It seems clear that the business that manage to survive turmoil have several qualities in common; excellent fiscal management, ability to embrace new technology, wisdom to only adopt change when there’s a clear financial or strategic advantage to their business, insight to predict future trends and adapt their business to ensure they survive.

Money Management

Five Money Saving Tips for the 21st Century

We’ve all heard how important it is to build up personal savings, but so few people actually have any type of substantial savings.  If saving money is as easy as most financial experts purport it be, why aren’t more people successful at doing so?  Quite simply, it’s because saving money requires personal discipline.  Practicing personal discipline in the 21st century is incredibly difficult due to our commercialized culture.

Everywhere you look there is an invitation to spend money.  Turn on the television and what do you see?  Commercials galore.  Go to a movie and before the previews start there are commercials.  Some restaurants have even started selling advertising space in their menus.  Our current multimedia and digital age gives the average advertiser far more exposure to the consumer than in decades past.  As consumers we are flooded with marketing, selling us the idea that we need extra things to make us happy – even if we cannot truly afford such things.

The following are five tips that can help anyone break the cycle of spending and begin the habit of saving.

1. Pay yourself first

If you’ve heard this tip before but ignored it, it’s time to start paying attention.  We’ve all seen what happens on payday.  When payday rolls around the first thing most people do is immediately spend.

Bills need to be paid, grocery shopping needs to be done, and recreation needs to be had.  When the paycheck is almost all used up, whatever pathetic amount is left over is sometimes allocated towards savings but there are no guarantees.  More often than not some other unforeseen expense creeps up and drains the leftovers.

It’s time to face an important reality: If you don’t pay yourself first, chances are you won’t do it later.

 

It’s recommended that you put away ten percent of every paycheck.  That might sound like a lot at first but the sooner you start doing it the less impact your budget will feel.  Look for places in your monthly budget/expenses where you can trim some fat to make up the difference of what you’ll lose by allocating ten percent to savings.

If ten percent sounds like a wildly unreasonable amount, start with five percent and work your way up to ten.  If you want to walk on the wild side, try 15 or 20 percent!

2. Put your savings out of sight

Ever heard the saying “Out of sight, out of mind?”  Well that rings especially true with money.  A $20 bill sitting on the kitchen table isn’t going to last very long in any house.  Twenty dollars sitting in an interest bearing savings account could likely survive a whole year if you forgot about it.

One of the tricks to saving money is to stash your savings in a place that makes it difficult to make a withdrawal.  Here are a few ideas for making your savings more elusive:

  • Don’t use your regular bank for a savings account.  If at all possible, use another bank – one out of the way, or even out of state.
  • Set up reoccurring automatic withdrawals from your regular checking account into your savings account.  For example, ask your bank to withdrawal $25 every Friday and deposit it into your savings account.
  • Check with your employer to see if they will allow you to split your direct deposit.  Many employers can take a percentage of your paycheck and deposit it into a different account than your normal checking account.
  • Don’t use a checking account.  You want to make it difficult for yourself to make withdrawals from your savings so it’s important not to have a debit card or paper checks connected to the account.

3. Use less plastic and more paper

Debit and credit cards are ultra convenient.  They make transactions so much easier.  However, sometimes they can cause us to lose track of how much we’ve been spending.  In this era it’s pretty difficult to not use any type of debit or credit card, but there are some expenses where it’s not necessary.

As an experiment, try putting yourself on a cash budget for certain line items in your budget where you’d like to cut back.  One example is food.  It’s very easy to spend a lot of money eating out or grocery shopping.  Set your monthly food budget and at the beginning of the month withdrawal the full amount in cash.

Put the cash in an envelope and put it in a safe place in your house.  For the entire month, only use money from the envelope for food-related purchases.  When the money runs out, that’s it.  No pulling money from elsewhere.  You’ll be amazed at how clever you can be when you absolutely must stick to a budget.

4. Keep the change

Have you ever gone on a change hunt in your home?  Change is lurking in all sorts of interesting places.  That change may seem insignificant, but it quickly adds up.  Make it a practice to regularly spend an hour or so gathering the spare change around the house.  Check under sofa cushions, in the laundry room, in pants pockets and all around.

There are many services that will cash in your change for dollar bills.  Coinstar.com is one of them.  Coinstar has kiosks in many grocery stores where you can simply dump all your change while the machine counts it and spits out a receipt you then redeem at the checkout stand for cash.  Doesn’t get much easier than that.  Take that cash and immediately deposit it into your savings account!

Another tip for saving change is to establish a change/money jar somewhere in your home.  Every time you find spare change or dollar bills, drop them in the jar.  Empty your pockets at the end of every day.  Whatever you do, don’t take money out of the jar and spend it!

5. Ignore unexpected income

We’ve all been blessed with some unexpected income.  It might be some birthday money.  It might be a bonus from work.  It might be a lonely $100 bill you found on your morning jog.  The reality is our first inclination when we come across extra money is to spend it.

Start a new habit and put any new and unexpected income directly into savings.  If you really think about it, it’s money you didn’t expect in the first place so you’ll never miss it when it’s gone!

These are just a few easy (and not so easy) tips to get you started down the path of true financial freedom.  Stop living paycheck to paycheck and embrace the lifestyle of saving.  The peace of mind you get by stacking up savings is worth the temporary sacrifice.

What ways do you use to save money?

photo credit: paul (dex)

 

Money Management

Ways to Alleviate the Cost of Your Largest Expenses

Consumers are always searching for ways to reduce their living expenses. This effort typically includes reducing the cost of maintaining a home, operating a vehicle and buying groceries. There are many opportunities live more frugally, but sometimes the best way to achieve these goals can be a simple adjustment. By freeing up extra money, you can put your hard-earned income towards better use such as building an emergency fund, paying down debt, or saving for retirement. Here are some of the most potent ways to instantly lower the cost the “big three” consumer items: housing, vehicles and groceries:

Opening the Wallet to Owning a Home

The average U.S. homeowner spends about one-third of their annual income on maintaining and operating a home. For apartment dwellers, the percentage is only slightly less. Because home ownership represents the largest single expense on the personal budget, it only makes sense to protect that investment wisely. Sadly, too many property owners are under-insured or carry no catastrophic-style insurance at all. With that thought in mind, here are the top three ways to lower the cost of home ownership:

  • Immediately slice monthly energy bills by installing a “smart” thermostat. The cost of the unit is minimal and will likely be paid for by the first month’s savings on your utility bill. 
  • Carry the right amount of insurance. Having no coverage, or too little, might seem to boost the monthly bottom line but in the long run it’s a dangerous move. Paying a slightly higher monthly insurance bill now can mean huge savings for the average homeowner should something unexpected happen, like a fire. 
  • If you’ve been in your house a while, it’s possible your credit scores are better than when you obtained your mortgage. See about a refinancing deal that might carry a lower interest rate and immediately reduce your monthly house payment. 

Operating & Maintaining a Vehicle

Each week, make a list of every trip you took in your vehicle. Try to identify two or three journeys that were totally unnecessary and eliminate them the next week. One way to reduce the cost of your vehicle is to protect it for less. Too many consumers don’t comparison shop for auto insurance and end up paying much more per month than they should. 

You can Boost your car’s MPG by having regular oil-changes and tune-ups. Don’t forget to keep track of all car service in a paper record or e-log. When the time comes to sell the vehicle, all your careful attention will pay off. Buyers will be happy to pay more for a used car that has been well-maintained. 

Groceries Instead of Restaurants

You may remember your parents always making a grocery list before shopping, but it can still hold true as one of the best ways to reduce household expenses. It’s easy and effective to simply walk through the kitchen and write down each item you need for the upcoming week. That way you can avoid going up and down the grocery shopping at will. Also, most grocery chains now sell dozens of generic staples, which can mean big savings for sharp-eyed consumers.

Insurance

What should you do if your insurer is in trouble?

insurer

Is it possible to have a highly successful and seemingly profitable insurance provider to be in trouble? YES. A good example is the American International Group (AIG) $85 billion dollar bailout that happened in 2008 where the shaky foundations of the world’s largest insurer caused consumers to go into widespread panic.

Ironic, isn’t it, considering if there’s no ASSURANCE in INSURANCE, then the industry is basically devoid of any substance. Fortunately, insurers do not go bankrupt every other day, so it’s safe to say that you need not bail out of your policy this very moment. 

Reasons why insurers fail

With the existence of so many insurers in the world, it’d be understandable for some people to play the ‘What If’ game. The main question in everyone’s mind is: What IF insurers fail? This is a completely valid question to ask, because it’s happened before. Insurance companies HAVE failed in the past, and it will happen again.

Luckily, there are less insolvent insurers compared to failed financial institution. For example, approximately 700 insurers across the world failed to uphold their business (and their promise to consumers). This happened within the 30 years between the 1970’s to year 2000. Now, compare this number against the 500 financial institutions that went insolvent during the infamous economic crisis of the 1980’s. This figure is applicable to establishments that existed in the United States ALONE. So if you think about it, the low insolvency rate of insurers is pretty encouraging to instill high consumer confidence.

Main reasons why insurers declare insolvency:

  • Underreserving: This is usually caused by poor insurance practices.
  • Lack of insight: Inability to forecast risk of catastrophes will also cause insurers to close up shop.
  • Rapid growth: Too much of a good thing is a bad thing, right? CORRECT. When an insurance company expands too much and too soon using underpricing procedures, it stretches itself thin and pretty soon, causes its own downfall.
  • Fraud: Needless to say, fraudulent activities will cause ANY company to fail. When profitability is manipulated or incompetent management left to run the business, you can be sure that trouble will be brewing very soon. 

What happens when an insurance company goes bankrupt?

Should you hear that your insurer is going bankrupt, don’t panic just yet. Your insurance company may yet be saved by the state Department of Insurance which will decide to put the firm into rehabilitation in order to salvage the situation. If this isn’t possible, they will start the liquidation process.

 You have a guardian angel in the form of your state’s insurance guarantee association. They will do all they can to transfer policies belonging to the insolvent firm to other stable (rival) companies. Policyholders will still enjoy coverage that’s capped up to $300,000. 

Looking for the next best thing?

Should you have the misfortune of having your insurer fail, you should immediately make plans to shop for new coverage. You should have plenty of time before your old policy expires so do take the time and read up on these pointers to make an informed decision regarding which new insurer’s offer to take up.

  • Think about your needs before choosing a new policy. You may be tempted to take on a larger one (thanks to a possibly over-zealous insurance sales rep), but if you assess your needs and financial standing, you should be able to make the right decision and settle on a policy that fits you just right. A cheaper policy won’t provide as much coverage, but it won’t cost you an arm and leg either.
  • Shop around for price quotes. Don’t discount independent agents as they may have their own repertoire of insurance products that fulfill your needs.
  • Before enjoying a payout from your insurer, you must pay an amount called the deductible. Some policies come with higher deductibles, thus lowering your premium, but may not be such a wise choice as more money has to be paid out before your claim will be processed.
  • Contrary to popular thinking, it’s NOT all about the money. An insurance policy may catch your interest with its low premium but what’s even more worth your money is to sign up with a trustworthy insurance company that enjoys excellent financial standing.
  • Don’t be shy in asking for discounts from your sales rep. Some companies may offer discounts at their discretion so do take the initiative to ask if you’re eligible to have your premium lowered. 

Knowing when to quit

They say breaking up is hard to do. Not so, if you’re trying to sever relationship with your insurance company. If you’re not happy with your current insurer, it’s better to throw in the towel early than suffer heartache later. Here are some issues to mull over if you are thinking about switching insurance providers:

–          Are you kept in the dark when you have a question (or a series of questions) to ask? Are your insurance customer service personnel knowledgeable enough to satisfy your curiosity?

–          Does your insurer pay out quickly, or does it take a few angry phone calls to find out what happened to your claims?

–          Do you feel like you’re being short-changed by your insurer? Are their rates way higher than others? 

The conclusion

Let’s face it: finding crystal balls on the shelves of Wal-Mart isn’t as easy as we’d like it to be, so there’s really no way we can find out how to spot insurers that may one day fail to pay out.

The best thing is to only do business with companies that are licensed to sell insurance. It helps to keep yourself informed on the best life insurance companies around. Plus, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Know when you’re buying a product for protection (insurance) and when you’re paying for investment.

Debt Management

4 Key Types of Debt Consolidation Loans to Choose From

If you have a lot of debt weighing down on you, you have several options for debt relief that can help you find financial freedom. Debt relief is amongst the better options that you have to get rid of your debt because it allows you to make manageable monthly payments at better rates than all the individual debts combined.

The different types of debt consolidation that you can choose from include the following:

  1. Personal Loan

By taking a personal loan that can cover all your debts, you can more manageably pay for all your original debts and remain with a single loan that you can pay off with more friendly terms.

Depending on your credit rating, a financial institution can give you quite attractive rates that may be better than your combined individual loans.

  1. Home Equity Loans

A home equity loan is an attractive option for debt consolidation because the loan usually has very low interest rates and its payment is over a very long period. With a home equity loan, the limit and basis for the loan is the value of your home.

The idea is to take a low interest home equity loan in order to pay off all your other debts and remain paying off just the home equity loan.

  1. Debt Consolidation Loans

You could also get a more direct debt consolidation loan from a financial institution or a debt relief company for the sole purpose of consolidating your loans.

  1. Credit Card consolidation

Credit card consolidation involves transferring debt balances from several credit cards to a single credit card that offers better terms.

Credit cards with interest rates as low as 0%, are usually promotional campaigns by credit card companies that seek new clients. These promotional rates are usually for a relatively short period.

If you are to use this option in order to consolidate your debt, you should make sure that you take note of the period when the promotion ends and when normal interest rates will take effect. You should also confirm if the limit of the promotional credit card is long enough for you to hold most or all of your debt.

It is important that you are able to settle all the consolidated debts transferred to the promotional credit card on or before the time when normal interest rates take effect, otherwise you may not benefit from this form of debt consolidation.

It is imperative to note that with a debt consolidation loan, you are actually just bringing together all your loans under a single roof, so to speak, so that you can gain control of your debt by benefitting from better payment terms for the combined loans.

You will need a lot of discipline to remember that you should avoid getting into further debt while still settling your debt consolidation loan. To help you stay on course with paying your debts through a debt consolidation loan, you should find out how others have managed to stay the course through reading debt consolidation reviews. These reviews should keep you focused on achieving your goal of being free from debt.