If I had a time machine....

Updated: May 22, 2019

If I had a time machine I would set it for 2004.

2004, the year I stopped being a student, left university with what was a rather expensive certificate, and started full time work. I would use that time machine to send myself a letter, a letter to tell me to do things differently. Now, of course we all know hindsight is a wonderful thing, and there are of course many things I would probably change but from a financial point of view my time machine would be a real game changer.

If I could only slip into my time machine just for a while, I would go back and tell myself to wise up. I would tell myself some of the lessons I have learned along the way and I would tell myself that (and I grimace as I say this) that my parents were right!

Now I am lucky enough to have had a diverse career, from the world of Law, to the big wide world of Finance. And although my journey thus far is fairly short, I believe I have already learned some real life lessons. In particular when it comes to money. Not just from personal experiences but from the very many experiences of each and everyone of my clients, whom if they had their chance again, would all do things a little differently.

Now I usually write about expat finance but this is really applicable to all. Although I do feel that us expatriates should take particular note. For those of us living in the Middle East time seems to stand still. Sunnier climes, the holiday lifestyle. It can seem like one big holiday on occasions. We must remember that we have more than likely moved here for increased financial gain. No taxes, increased salaries but when we let time slip, as I see expats do all the time it can have debilitating consequences.

Now, unless you have a time machine of your own you wont be able to play back time. And it isn’t funds, cash, gold or other investments - but time, that is your most precious commodity.

So I am going back. I am going to slip into my time machine, and let you know what I would do differently and share some of the lessons I have learned with you.

Start saving as early as you possibly can.

Most individuals will need a minimum of roughly 70% of their pre-retirement income in order to maintain their current standard of living during their years of retirement. By starting early rather than delaying your savings for a few more years, you can considerably reduce the amount you save every month to reach your retirment goal. The longer you leave it the more you will have to save, the older you get. Time really is your most precious commodity.

I remember my father rattling on to me about contributing to a pension the moment I started working. Of course I wanted to spend my hard earned cash. I couldn’t have been more disinterested at the age of 24 about saving for retirement, but I know now he was right. In fact the proof was in the pudding. He retired very early in life and now spends his days playing golf while many of his peers are still working. So next time you receive your pay cheque be honest with yourself. You may be enjoying a fantastic way of life now but what will that life look like if you have no money in retirement, or worse still if you are still working at age 65 as you have no choice.

Pay off debt.

You will rarely be able to earn more on your savings than you will pay on your borrowings. If you are paying more for your borrowing than you are getting on your savings, then it makes sense to pay off your loans. Make it your priority. Work out the absolute maximum you can afford to put towards paying off your debt each month and stick to it.  Be prepared to make sacrifices. If you need to move into a smaller apartment or get a cheaper car then do it. Always remember that debt isn’t free and the interest rates are high. The sooner pay your debt off the less the debt will cost you in the long run.

But the best advice is if you can avoid borrowing then do so. Do not spend what you cannot afford. It will invariably cost you more in the long run

Be diligent. If it sounds too good to be true folks, it probably is!

Do some background research and perform due diligence on the broker or the institution you are discussing investing with. Do they have a proven track record that can be verified by an independent party? Where are they based? And who are they regulated by? 
Remember the devil is in the detail and it pays to check who you are dealing with before investing.

Don’t be too risk averse in your younger years.

New research by BlackRock* shows how risk averse most people are. In a recent survey it found that 57 per cent said they were not willing to take any risks with their money. There is the risk that if too much of your wealth is stuck in cash you won’t meet longer term savings goals, be they providing a decent nest egg for retirement or paying your children’s education fees.

Take special consideration over capital over and above your buffer kept aside in a deposit account. Use this capital to aim for real growth - at an absolute minimum beating inflation. Being too risk averse in your younger years may prevent you from achieving this. It is about striking the right balance between risk and reward. *Source: BlackRock Investor Pulse Survey 2013. 2,000 UK participants surveyed, August and September 2013.

Don't put all of your eggs in one basket.

Diversification is the key here. The goal of diversification is to reduce risk.  The logic is quite simple.  If you invest in things that do not move in the same direction, at the same time or at the same pace, then you will reduce your chances of losing all of your money at the same time or at the same pace. It’s one of the best ways to protect your portfolio from the many forms of risk.

Diversifying your portfolio demands that you hold many different asset classes to spread the risk. With this strategy, a significant loss in any one investment or class doesn’t destroy your entire portfolio.

In the financial world, three principles will help you divide your savings among different investments: asset allocation, investment diversification and portfolio rebalancing. If you are an inexperienced investor your financial advisor will assist you in doing this

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