Lifestyle self-audit part 2

slide2Money matters

I assume you know how much you earn each month; but do you know how much you’re spending?

No, I’m not going to ask you to keep a spending log but I am suggesting that you invest the time required to get a firm understanding of your current cash flow situation. However, if you find that you can’t account for a significant amount of your spending, then you might want to keep a spending log for a week or more to see where those missing dollars, pounds or euros are going.

This is an exercise that is best completed using a spreadsheet but it can be done on a sheet of paper with the aid of a calculator.

What you need to complete this exercise is a copy of the accounts that you pay and your bank account statements, and I recommend that you do it for a complete financial or calendar year.

  • If you are an employee, use your net income; that is, the amount you actually receive from your employer – that’s the amount you’re trying to live on.
  • If you’re self-employed, use your gross income. Taxes and levies are expenses you need to allow for each month. Even if you only pay them quarterly or annually, you need to have the cash to do that at the time. You also need to account for your business expenses as well as your personal expenses, and know the difference between the two if you want to avoid disputes with the tax authorities.

Draw up a table with months across the top and a list of income and expenses down the left hand side.

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Group your personal expenses into two categories: essential and discretionary.

Essential expenses are the things required for survival; like food, water, housing, electricity and clothing.

Discretionary expenses are not related to survival. They’re expenses you have a choice about, things like going to the movies, eating out, a new pair of shoes, cigarettes and life insurance.

Some of your expenses will be regular in the sense that you need to pay them every month or quarter. For example, expenses like rent or mortgage payments are usually both fixed in amount and regular in frequency of payment. Food and utility payments, on the other hand, may be regular in frequency of payment but variable in amount. Items like car expenses may vary both in frequency and amount.

How many credit cards are there in your household? Remember to include any loan and credit card repayments you are required to make as expenses.

To keep things simple, I suggest you create an expense called ‘petty cash’ as a catch all for the money you spend on low value items like coffee and lunch during the month. The important point is to get it as accurate as you can without stressing over every dollar, pound or euro.

Analysing your data

When you have filled in the table, total your expenses for each month. Then, for each month, subtract your total expense amount from your monthly income, and record the result in a separate row labelled cash flow. If you used a spreadsheet, you might want to graph that result. It’s also valuable to compare the total of your annual expenses with your total income for the year.

  • If your annual expenses equal your annual income, you need to do something.
  • If your expenses exceed your income  – you definitely need to do something.

Hint: If you have credit cards and you can’t clear the debt in a particular month, you spent more that month than you earned. If you have rolling credit card debt, which you never seem to be able to pay off, you’re spending more than you earn.

In the final analysis, if you need to do something, there are only two things you can do: earn more income or spend less money. If spending less is your only viable option, you need to draw up a plan – also known as a budget – and apply self-discipline.


This is a draft of material that will eventually appear in Everyday Productivity, the next title in my Everyday Business Skills books.  Please feel free to offer feedback in the comments.


Peter Mulraney has forty years experience working in schools, banking, and government. He is the author of the Inspector West crime series, the Living Alone series of self-help books for men, Sharing the Journey: Reflections of a Reluctant Mystic, The New Girlfriend and Everyday Project Management.

Lifestyle impacts on productivity

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By lifestyle, I mean how you’re living your life. In this chapter we’re focusing on what you do when you’re not at work. One of the reasons I chose to start with lifestyle is that it’s something you can address without drawing attention to yourself at work. It’s also an easy way to show you that you can do something about your behaviours – once you become aware of them and their potential consequences beyond your front door.

Sleep deprivation

If you’re still wondering what influence your lifestyle choices could possibly have on your productivity, type ‘sleep deprivation’ into your search engine of choice and hit ‘enter’.

Here’s a list of some of the effects of sleep deprivation* you’ll find that relate directly to work performance.

  • Reduced alertness
  • Shortened attention span
  • Slower than normal reaction time
  • Poor judgement
  • Reduced awareness of the environment and situation
  • Reduced decision-making skills
  • Poor memory
  • Reduced concentration
  • Increased likelihood of mentally ‘stalling’ or fixating on one thought
  • Increased likelihood of moodiness and bad temper
  • Reduced work efficiency
  • Loss of motivation
  • Errors of omission – making a mistake by forgetting to do something
  • Errors of commission – making a mistake by doing something, but choosing the wrong option
  • Micro-sleep – brief periods of involuntary sleeping that range from a few seconds to a few minutes in duration.

*Source: Better Health Victoria

Living in separate boxes

separateboxes

We tend to divide our work and home lives into separate boxes and ignore the impacts each has on the other. You’re no doubt familiar with stories about workaholics, people who destroy their family lives by spending too much time at work. Those stories actually illustrate the interconnectedness of the different parts of your life, so it’s really not all that surprising, when you think about it, that your home life can impact your work life, and, therefore, your productivity. And, it’s not just your sleeping pattern. It’s all those things, like the following, that can cause you stress.

Relationships

If things are going well in your relationship with your significant other, chances are you’re feeling good about going to work and the state of your relationship is not distracting you from the task at hand. If, on the other hand, you’re experiencing some relationship issues, you’ll probably be finding it difficult to concentrate on the job. You may even be having some trouble sleeping, and we’ve already seen what that can do. This is one aspect of your life you can do something about if it’s causing you stress and impacting on your productivity. You might only need to talk to your partner. You might need to make some behavioural changes or get help to sort out your issues. You may need to end the relationship. Point is, you can either do something about it or simply hope it will go away. The choice is yours.

Money

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Most money problems are self-inflicted. Sure, there will be times when something comes out of left field that you weren’t expecting but, if you’re honest with yourself, you’ll know that your money problems are the result of spending more than you earn. Take a look at your credit cards. They exist to allow you to do just that.

If you’re worrying about how you’re going to pay this month’s bills when you’re supposed to be working, you will not be as productive as you could be. The good news is money problems are fixable, if you’re prepared to exercise some self-control when it comes to spending. But, again, the choice is yours to make.

Health and fitness

Sometimes you can be your own worst enemy, especially when it comes to how you look after your body. You eat fast food. You settle for being a couch potato. You mess with your brain chemistry by drinking too much alcohol or using so called recreational drugs and narcotics, or overusing medical opiates. You reduce your lung capacity by smoking cigarettes or weed, despite all the health warnings on the packet. If you’re a ‘party animal’, you might want to go back and read that list of effects of sleep deprivation, and ask yourself why they do blood tests and impose sleep restrictions on pilots and people operating machinery in underground mines. You might only be operating a computer but you’ll face the same problems.

When you think about it, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to work out that if you’re overweight, unfit, and mess with your brain chemistry and lung capacity, you probably won’t be at your best when you turn up for work.

But there’s more to wellbeing than physical fitness and healthy eating habits. There’s also how you look after yourself from a mental or spiritual perspective. If you want to operate optimally in the workplace, you need to give yourself some downtime and have some fun. You’re not going to be productive if you’re running on empty most of the time. Fortunately, there are ways of addressing these issues but they all require one thing: self-discipline.

Family responsibilities

The extent of your family responsibilities changes with time. If you have young children they get sick, they have trouble sleeping, and they’re involved in all sorts of things. If you have elderly parents you may end up with carer responsibilities. Point is, if you have family responsibilities there will be times when they impact on your work commitments. If they’re regular and ongoing, it’s probably a good idea to discuss them with your employer and plan around them. There is no point in trying to hide them. That’s a stress you don’t need. Sometimes you have family emergencies and you either can’t go in or you need to leave work early. You need a plan for how you’re going to handle those emergencies that includes how you’re going to meet any critical deadlines.

If your employer is unsympathetic to supporting you meet your family responsibilities, it may be time to find a new job or to seek help from your wider family or the community. Sometimes people only need to be asked.


The next step is to conduct a self-audit of your lifestyle choices. A self-audit can help you become aware of behaviours that may be impacting on your productivity – if you’re honest with yourself. Your findings will either confirm that you have no issues or that you have a few things to attend to in your own time that may help you increase your productivity.


This is a draft of material that will eventually appear in Everyday Productivity, the next title in my Everyday Business Skills books. Over the next few weeks I’ll be writing a series of Everyday Productivity posts, and providing you with an opportunity to download a free copy of the workbook to complete the exercises designed to help you get the most out of the content. Please feel free to offer feedback in the comments.


Peter Mulraney has forty years experience working in schools, banking, and government. He is the author of the Inspector West crime series, the Living Alone series of self-help books for men, Sharing the Journey: Reflections of a Reluctant Mystic, The New Girlfriend and Everyday Project Management.

Prosperity

We all want prosperity.

When we say that, what exactly is it we want?

Some starting pointers from the Oxford Dictionary:

  • Prosperity (n). a state of being prosperous; wealth or success.
  • Prosperous (adj.) 1 successful; rich 2 flourishing; thriving 3 auspicious
  • Prosper (v.) 1 succeed; thrive 2 make successful.

Maybe it would be better to say we all want to prosper. We all want to succeed; we all want to thrive.

I suspect that most of us dream about the getting rich side of prospering.

There is nothing wrong with aspiring to be rich, but that’s only one aspect of the state of being prosperous. Mind you, being rich enables you to do a lot more things than being poor, so it’s understandable that we want to be richer than we are.

I think there is more to it than becoming rich.

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What about flourishing as a person? What might that mean beyond or apart from having a healthy bank balance? What about healthy relationships? What about well-being and good health – physically, mentally and spiritually?

In a way, prosperity is about feeling good about yourself and being able to enjoy what this world has to offer.

If we think about prosperity as success, we can see that it’s much more than just having a lot of money. Most of us know that’s only one kind of success. We know that we can enjoy success in many aspects of life beyond accumulating money.

Maybe you can get that sense of prosperity simply by feeling happy with your lot. Maybe it comes from being in a loving relationship. Maybe it comes from living in communities where we respect each other or living in societies where everybody gets a fair go.

When you expand your definition of what prosperity means for you, as in the above examples, you start to see that there are no limits to prosperity. You start to understand that your prosperity adds to the prosperity of all and does not subtract from the prosperity of others.

If there is one thing I’ve learnt in life, it’s you can’t get what you want by focusing on what you don’t want.

If you want to experience more prosperity in your life, decide what prosperity means for you, and devote your energy to creating more of that. That’s what I’m doing.

The circus has begun.

It’s hard to believe, given the media coverage, that the US presidential election is still more than a year away.

For us non-Americans watching on from afar, the lead up campaigns to select the Republican and Democratic contenders for the top job are a great source of both amusement and concern.

Amusement – because it’s a challenge to take some of the hopefuls and their arguments seriously.

Concern – because, although we have no say, we all get to live with the consequences.

It might appear to be a circus to us, but going by the amount of money spent on the campaigns, it’s a serious activity for some in the USA.

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One is left wondering whether there would be a different set of candidates if campaigns were publicly funded – with every candidate getting the same amount of campaign funds.

Thanks for dropping by, Peter.

Making money

There are thousands of businesses operating on low mark up.

These are the places selling you an item for $1.05 that they paid $1.00 for or maybe you’re paying $5.25 for an item that cost the business $5.00.

Ever wondered how they make money?money_wads

The answer is turnover.

Consider a supermarket. This is a business that people visit at least every week. Some people, like those addicted to fresh food, might visit every day.

Let’s do some maths based on a weekly turnover of items that the supermarket pays a million dollars for and sells to us with a five percent mark up.

Five precent of $1,000,000 is $50,000, so by the end of the week the supermarket has recovered the million dollars, which it uses to replenish the shelves, and put fifty thousand dollars into the account for paying costs and storing profits.

At the end of the year, after fifty-two weeks of trading, the supermarket still has the million dollars required to replenish the shelves for the next week, and it has put 52 x $50,000 into its account to cover costs and store profits.

Now, just in case you missed it – they have put $2,600,000 into that account over the year.

Even if it costs them $1,000,000 to operate the business for the year (around $20,000 a week) they have still accumulated another $1,600,000.

If they borrowed the original million dollars, the annual tax deductible borrowing cost is going to be around $50,000 at 5% per annum, given today’s low interest rate environment.

But the owners would be happy to pay 10% per annum or $100,000 if they had to, because they are making 260% per annum on the million they started with – these guys are making 5% per week on money that’s costing them 5% per annum.

imageIf you think that’s rich, think about the implications if you pay for your supermarket purchases with your credit card. Even if you clear the balance every month to avoid paying interest on the money you borrowed, the bank is still making money.

Banks charge businesses like supermarkets something called a merchant fee. Some businesses absorb the fee in their cost structure while others pass it on, which is why when you buy things online you sometimes find yourself paying a surcharge.

Point to consider is, it doesn’t matter who pays it, the bank gets its merchant fee. When you consider the billions of daily credit card transactions you can see how a low mark up of less than 1% per transaction can be multiplied into massive earnings by turnover.

Okay, you and I are not operating a supermarket or a bank. Can this work for us?

Of course it can. It’s only an operating model and it’s not a secret.

Anyone of us with a low cost item like an ebook, a training course, an mp3 music file or an App can play the turnover game, provided we can present our items to the billions of people shopping online – at a price they’re prepared to pay in exchange – and attract the attention of a small percentage of those shoppers.

What do you think businesses like Amazon, Apple and Google are doing? They’re providing us with the platforms we can use to sell our low cost items – so they can make money on our turnover. Yep, they do what the banks do. They charge us a fee that’s built into the price.

That’s what’s called a win – win.

Share this – so a few more of those billions of online shoppers get the opportunity to consider buying my lost cost items.

Thanks for dropping by, Peter.

The wealth divide.

imageThere is a whole industry based on our desire for instant wealth – gambling.

We’re all dreaming of winning big.

I’ve been there. I used to play the Saturday X-lotto at $9.00 each week, where the chances of winning a life changing amount of money are around one in eight million.

I’ve made more money from X-lotto in the two years since I stopped playing than from all the years I played, simply because the money stayed in my account, instead of passing into a pool that is divided up between the winners, the operators and the government.

It doesn’t matter which form of gambling you look at, there are only two groups consistently taking home the money: the operators and governments. It’s not the punters.

Understanding money
Many of us do not understand money or the financial system – even the people operating the financial system don’t fully understand it, which is why we have global financial crises.

A lot of us are following, what Robert Kiyosaki so elegantly calls in Rich Dad Poor Dad, the Poor Dad philosophy.

The fundamental rule we all need to come to terms with, if we are to break away from the Poor Dad philosophy is: spend less than you earn and invest the surplus in income generating assets.

I know from my own experience that sometimes that is almost impossible to pull off, however, unless you do, financial independence will elude you. You will always be living from payday to payday, and hoping there will be some form of social security to support you later.

It’s not that you have to avoid debt. There is what is referred to as good debt – debt backed by assets which appreciate in value or generate income, or both. For example, debt used to buy property or shares. However, there is also what is known as bad debt – debt incurred to support lifestyle choices, for example going on vacation, buying a new wide screen TV or the latest must have device.

The good debt provides you with a source of income or capital gain to pay the money back to the lender.

The bad debt provides you with nothing but fleeting enjoyment, and you have to pay back the money you borrowed, plus interest, from your normal income stream. The biggest debt trap for unwary players is the credit card.

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This is one of the facts of money, discussed by Kiyosaki in Rich Dad Poor Dad, which we can all do something about. But it requires being able to resist the lure of all that advertising, designed to keep us locked into purchasing before we actually have the cash to pay.

Another part of the money game, discussed by Kiyosaki, is that to be financially independent you need to have your own business with multiple sources of income. This is the Rich Dad philosophy we hear so much about.

A question of balance.
That philosophy may work for some, but I’m not sure we’re all cut out to be in business. For most of us, the game is about finding a balance between the Rich Dad and Poor Dad philosophies.

For society to function, we need people to work in service industries, to provide the services of government like law enforcement, education and public safety, and to work in the businesses of all the Rich Dads, so that the goods and services they provide are available for the rest of us to consume.

It’s okay to be an employee or a public servant. It’s okay to be in business.

What’s not okay, in my opinion, is irresponsible consumption and the exploitation of employees.

I suspect that one of the reasons why so many of us chase after ‘Get rich quick’ schemes, is simply a desire to improve our own situation, because it appears that there is no other way.

The real problem.
When you think about it, there is something wrong when someone working full time, in a highly industrialised economy, does not earn enough money to pay for the basic necessities of life. And, let’s not forget all those in far more depressing situations in less developed economies.

In recent times the wealth discussion has focussed on the 1% versus 99% divide, with Oxfam suggesting that the top 1% will soon own more than 50% of the economic wealth on earth.

I can’t see how we can continue to support the current situation, where a privileged few live in opulence and so many live in destitution.

Regardless of your position on the wealth ownership spectrum, what do think can be done about the current wealth divide that will improve the lives of the millions of people who own nothing?

Thanks for dropping by, Peter

Images from OpenClipArt.Org