The personal financial implications of the ‘Gig’ and ‘On demand’ economy
The “gig” and on “demand economy” – typified by Uber and AirBnB is not a new fad that is going to fade into history, it is the birth of a new economic era, part of the wider technological revolution that has been slowly getting momentum since the eighties. You can ignore it, and be swallowed up by it, or embrace it and ride the wave and use it to increase your wealth – the choice is yours. This new era is going to impact every facet of your wealth ecosystem, from income through to retirement. The good news that you can ride the wave, take the good and ignore the bad, and you don’t have to be swallowed up by it.
This new era coincides with the rise in personal consumption and services as a proportion of our economy. In the USA consumption makes up 60% or more of the GDP, even in the New SA it is as high as 50% – especially when resources are as lacklustre as they are now. In order to consume, citizens need to be remunerated. For the last 40 years technology has helped us increase our productivity, without taking out too many jobs in the gross sense, but that is coming to an end. This isn’t the first time in history that this has happened – The Industrial Revolution changed occupations forever, but new occupations grew out of the change to fill in the gap. In the States, unemployment is almost at the ‘goldilocks’ full employment level. Anyone who doesn’t have a job doesn’t want one or is ‘unemployable’. There was an interesting and ground-breaking development in Switzerland that could well become the new normal in decades to come – the idea that every citizen of working age be paid a ‘guaranteed income’ by the government, whether or not they worked – so if you have the ambition to improve yourself not just ‘survive’, then you go out to work. Basically it will obliterate poverty but will not necessarily decrease inequality. That inequality will be required to produce the ‘guaranteed income’ of course.
If it was that easy we’d all do it
Everyone clamours after passive income. The thought of having money flow into your account, day and night with no effort, is intoxicating. Thousands of bestsellers have been written about it, but don’t be fooled, it is also very hard to do properly or quickly. In one way or another, most of us trade our time for money. Time is finite, therefore the income that you can earn from it will also be finite. With true passive income you invest some time (often lots of it) and capital (often lots of that too) and come out with an invention on which you can earn royalties, a book or training program that earns you ongoing income or set up a website and sell ‘stuff’ that you buy cheap and mark-up and make a profit or start building a property rental portfolio. None of those are easy, and often the money you earn from it, unless you really have hit or spend a massive amount of time on promotion, is minimal for years.
The ‘on demand’ economy has opened up new avenues for passive income that are worth exploring. If you have a spare room and don’t mind the invasion of privacy, then AirBnB might work for you and bring in a couple of thousand rand a month. If you put that in your bond, you’ll pay it off years earlier. You can do the same by picking a house that has a cottage and renting it out. If you have a decent car, you could also become an Uber driver or hire someone to use the car while you are at work, or in the evenings (when demand is often higher) – delegation comes with it’s own problems of course.
Second jobs are not passive income, they are just more of ‘bartering your time for income’, instead of getting overtime at work. On the positive side though, some of them can be very rewarding. It is becoming increasingly easy to sell your crafts/art/hobbies. Distribution costs keep coming down and the value of handcrafted items going up. So while this might not be ‘passive’ income, it can be satisfying second income doing something you love and usually do for free.
Wealth – What is left
In this, the last part of the three part blog (You can read part 1 HERE, and part 2 HERE)on the wealth equation we are going to look at the one we are all most interest in, wealth. Just to recap, the equation goes like this : Wealth is what is left after you have consumed your income – Not higher grade maths, but if you can simplify something that is infinitely complex into a simple concept, there is a better chance that more people will understand, and, more importantly, make the small changes that can have a huge impact on their wealth.
To start off with let’s look at what wealth is, and what it isn’t. Your primary residence is not an asset. In time, it may reduce your consumption that comes from rent but you have to have a roof over your head in the long term. If push comes to shove in your retirement years, you can realise the capital and live off it for the rest of your life, but obviously a chunk of that is now going to go into rental. Your brand-new-every-three-years-car and holiday-home-that-is-hardly-ever-rented are also not assets or wealth. In part one and two we focussed on one thing – increasing the amount that is left after you have consumed your income – so that you can invest and grow your wealth. One question I often get is “Should I pay off my debt or invest the money?” The easy answer is pay off your debt. The even easier answer is, apart from your mortgage, don’t have any debt. Mortgages are usually the lowest interest rate you can get. What about cars I hear you shout… My answer? Read part 2. If you pick right the first time, and you look after it, a car should last ten years. That gives you 5-7 years to put that repayment into an investment when you have to replace it – and pay cash. Before you buy a car find out what the out-of-plan maintenance costs are like – the variety by brand might shock you into making a longer-term choice. With our slower investment market and high interest rates, putting excess money in a bond is the best ‘return on investment’ you are going to get. However… whether you should or not is going to depend on your personal financial behaviour. Far too often I have seen pensions being cashed out (and taxed) to pay off debt or go into the bond, only for the debt to rise up again quickly. Fess up to your financial behaviour – you don’t have to share it with anyone – but if you know how you behave you are well on the way to really growing your wealth.
So, let’s just recap from Part 1 (which you can read HERE if you missed it). Wealth is what is left after you have consumed your income. In part one we looked at the income component. I debunked some of the myths around passive income before you think that is going to answer all your problems. I also emphasised that the working world is changing and it is not cool to be clueless, especially when it comes to technology. If you don’t keep learning and making yourself relevant, you’re going to come short. Nobody wants the money to run out before they do. You might not want to hear it, but it is the consumption component of your wealth equation where you can make the biggest difference, and most of it immediately. There is no point in scrabbling around to reduce the fees on your investments if you’re living large and beyond your means, making those few basis point saving on your investments fade into insignificance.
Most of our spending is a result of years of habits. Some of those habits, or perceptions, about money were laid in childhood. If you really want to make a difference to your wealth mind-set, you need to let go of blaming everyone else for your behaviour and own it. Sure, you might not have been set the best example in the world, your parents might not have been able to afford the best education, but as soon as you are an adult and have control over your own money it is time to stop blaming your parents or teachers and claw back that power. There are so many resources out there (including this one) that will help you do that. Irrespective of what you earn you should know, almost on a daily basis, what money is coming in, and what is going out and where. Fortunately there is an app for that. If you gave a huge sigh of frustration at that comment perhaps you need to go back to Part 1. It is not cool to be clueless, embrace technology, and not demonise it because you’re too lazy to learn. (Harsh and not politically correct I know but now, more than ever before, simple apps will save you massive amounts of time.) The app I like best for this daily money management is 22seven (free on Playstore and iStore). Why? It pulls all your transactions from all your accounts and most investments. You can then decide on your own categories and once done, all the transactions from that place (say Pick n Pay or Builders warehouse) will go into that category. You can then set the limits for each category. After a couple of weeks it is very clear where your weak points are. If you rarely look at your bank statement, then you might find long forgotten debit orders. It is those day-to-day expenses, accumulated over years that erode your wealth.
The wealth equation part 1 : Income
Is it possible to boil the secret of wealth down to a simple formula? I think it is not only possible, it is necessary. It is so easy to over-think wealth. Our relationship with money is extremely complex. We unwittingly give it different meaning and power way beyond its value. There is no other ‘concept’, with the exception perhaps of religion, that can stir up so much passion in a person that they are willing to kill for it.
We all know of people who will throw every single value they have ever held out of the window in the pursuit of the almighty buck. To be more exact, in pursuit of more income. But that is wealth isn’t it? Nope. Wealth is what is left after you have consumed your income. Even an ecosystem can be boiled down to some very basic elements so that they can be understood better. Inputs minus outputs equals growth. In an ecosystem the Inputs are numerous; sun, water, elements, oxygen, carbon dioxide, soil, food. Outputs include energy, pests, elements, oxygen, carbon dioxide, harvest, offspring and consumption – to name a few. The growth is the increase, of the plant, the animal, the population. If the outgoing is more than the incoming there is no growth. For dinosaurs (and millions of other species) they become extinct.
The equation is simple. Income minus consumption equals wealth. That means there are 3 components of your financial life you can tweak to grow your wealth. You can increase your income, decrease your consumption and manage your wealth.
Investment Diversity is as important as Biodiversity
One of the constant features of us complicated humans is the desire for diversity. We get bored quickly. We want new tastes, new experiences, new ‘stuff’. As soon as anything becomes repetitive we lose interest or get stressed. Repetitive jobs, reruns of old TV shows, repetitive ads, poor menu choice at your favourite restaurant. Fashion is a direct result of our need for variety. In nature this variety is called biodiversity.
Biodiversity is extremely important for the planet. It allows for flexibility when change happens to an environment. That change may kill one or two species, but something will always survive – even if it is just a cockroach or Trump. When it comes to our wealth, diversity is just as important. You cannot afford to put all your retirement eggs in one investment basket.
So let’s look at the various components of wealth and see where the diversity can come from:
There are 5 asset classes: Cash, Bonds, Equity, Property and Currency (not a classic asset class but a multiplier for offshore investments).
Cash is pretty self explanatory. It is ‘boring’ and gives you a below inflation rate of return. It’s importance to your wealth however cannot be underestimated. Cash-flow is king, not just for businesses but for individuals too. If you have cash available you can weather unplanned expenses without taking out expensive debt. You can also take advantage of other wealth opportunities quickly and without eroding your other wealth caches. If you put your cash with a major financial institution or in a product that spreads the risk across a number of institutions you are going to be okay. You are unlikely to lose the capital. What percentage of your wealth portfolio should be in cash? This is going to vary according to the economic environment but 3 months, after tax household expenses plus 10% is a reasonable rule of thumb. This is right across your wealth portfolio. Your retirement fund for example will have at least 10% in cash – but is ‘unavailable’. If you have a ‘blended’ unit trust (a flexible or moderate mandate for example) then there is probably a cash component there too.