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Tracking wheels and meals: have a less stressful tax season next year

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Personal Income Tax (PIT) season is often a nightmare rush of catch-up, trying to capture and find invoices, mileage and other expenses! Now that we’re approaching March, start good habits that will make your next tax return that much easier and more rewarding in terms of returns.

You’ll be grateful you did…

Why everyone hates tax so much
Imagine yourself digging through a haystack to find a specific needle ten times in a row… that’s most people’s experience of filing tax returns. Because your information is not organised with your next tax return in mind every day or week, it’s that much harder eleven months on. Try to reduce the amount of needles lost in the haystack – or avoid the haystack entirely. Here are some tips to help you record the correct information – but please note that these are general guides. For proper tax advice, please get in touch.

Start a travel log now
This is one of the real pet peeves and where most people throw good money that they could’ve had in rebates away – their work-driving mileage. Keep a little A5 notebook in the car with you as a logbook and, each day, track your kilometres.

Another option for those of us more paperless is to take a screenshot of your odometer at the start and end of each work day and save these in a special folder on your phone.

Remember, you are not required to pay any tax on business travel expenses. That can get you a healthy rebate, as can declaring your amount of travel allowance given to you by an employer, as long as you’re not reimbursed more than 355 cents per kilometre which, let’s face it, most of us aren’t. That’s good money spent that you can get back from the taxman, as long as you keep a good record of it being for work-related travel.

Start tracking receipts now
If you’re going to track your work driving for tax, you’re going to need to keep your petrol purchase slips. So, while we’re at it, let’s talk about receipt-keeping.

Another good practice is to keep a folder in your office and car for every single receipt you accrue for work. Put everything in and use as this folder as a backup reference. Then, ask for your receipt to be emailed to you and keep that digital copy of the receipt as well. A good way to do this is simply to create a folder in your email purely for tax receipts and file things in there as soon as they come in.

Remember – do it that moment; it’s amazing how quickly we can forget. A bonus is that you’ll accrue much less paper clutter in your wallet, your car, laptop bag, handbag… definitely a win.

Because things slip through the gaps, it may also be good to set aside 20 minutes once a week – book it in your diary as if it were a meeting – and go over your work expenses for the week and check whether all of them are accounted for.

Think about using a tax professional, and keep them in the loop
A good accountant is with worth their weight in… well, tax rebates. However, handing over a mountain of receipts and logbooks once a year, just before tax deadline, is stressful for both you and them. A better way? Have a shared system where you can put stuff in immediately – a shared folder on Google Drive is a neat solution – so that your meeting the month you need to file your return is painless or, better yet, not even necessary. One less thing to do!

All these tips sound miniscule and so obvious, but that’s exactly the point: small changes do add up and, if you look after the pennies, the pounds really do look after themselves.

Try it and see. You’ll thank us next tax season, promise.

What you need to know to set yourself up for offshore

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All offshore who are going offshore…

Beginning to invest offshore is increasingly looking good for worried South Africans amidst geopolitical turmoil. Depending on your risk appetite investment expectations, it can work for you and need not be an overwhelming or intimidating experience. Here’s what you need to know:

Professional help is essential
Everyone can invest offshore, it’s not only for the Oppenheimers… That being said, you cannot go it alone. Every country has its own nuanced rules and best practices; did you know that succession planning in Mauritius is completely different to here and estates don’t automatically go to spouses, or that there is no capital gains tax in Namibia?

There isn’t just one way of investing offshore
Whilst higher net-worth individuals often use bespoke investment options, average earners can invest offshore in a few different ways. The most common ways are to either invest in a foreign currency unit trust or to go large and hire a portfolio manager, through your bank usually, to set up a personal international brokerage account.

For tax reasons, many higher net-worth investors will set up an offshore trust into which they can deposit money as an investment to earn interest. If you choose this route you need to be aware of tax laws both locally and abroad. There are other options too, so again, speak to a professional advisor before you take the leap.

Relax – you don’t need a foreign bank account
Unless you’ve lived abroad and opened an account while in that country, chances are you don’t have a US or UK bank account. And that’s okay. Things like PayPal and Bitcoin are changing the game with cross-border payments and transaction and, in any case, you don’t need a foreign bank account to earn that offshore capital. You can transfer the money directly from a South African bank account in much the same way as you would transfer money from a local account to another local one.

Investing has never been a ‘one size fits all’ exercise, it’s built on a behaviour that is able to stand firm in shaky markets, is supported by a trusted advisor relationship and finds wealth in diversity.

How retirement savings could be saving you tax

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For decades retirement savings have formed the foundation of a financial plan, and for good reason – but did you know that retirement savings can not only help finance your older years, they can save you money on tax right now?

It’s a common mistake, but many people forget to declare contributions to their retirement annuity (RA) in their tax return. The SA Revenue Service (SARS) allows tax deductions for contributions to your RA, a pension fund or provident fund up to the value of 27.5% of the greater of your taxable income or remuneration.

This is a mistake – Sars is all for your retirement savings! The amount you can get back was increased dramatically by Sars in 2016 from 15 percent to 27.5 for precisely the reason that they wanted to encourage more people to save and save for retirement.

So, let’s say Judy does not earn very much and has no pension fund at work that she contributes to. Of the R100,000 taxable income she earns a year, she puts R1,000 into her RA each month. Because this is less than 27.5 percent of her annual income, she can claim back the full amount of R12,000.

However, don’t start going crazy on the RA contributions – this deduction is also limited to an annual ceiling of R350 000 per annum, even if that is less than 27.5 percent of your taxable income. If Judy were contributing R35,000 per month instead of R1,000 she would only be able to claim back for R350,000 even though she actually saved R420,000 – a whole R70,000 more than she’s able to claim.

If you’re in the position of being able to invest more than R29,000 in retirement savings contributions in any form each month, you need to be exploring different options. For example, you could leverage the benefit of a discretionary savings portfolio, which not only diversifies your money but is also far less heftily taxed when you hit retiring age and withdraw (capital gains tax as opposed to the far larger personal income tax).

These kinds of decisions are best made with a professional financial advisor, so come in and have a chat. It’s possible to save for your future and have that retirement money save you tax in the short term.

How to have a financially savvy Valentine’s Day

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It’s Valentine’s Day this month, a holiday that doesn’t get much love for the way it costs plenty of sensible people a lot of foolish spending. This Valentine’s, why not take a more financially prudent stance?

First things first: have the important talks as a couple
The number of couples who get engaged or take their relationship to the next level around Valentine’s Day is significant… and it’s worth noting that those who talk about money beforehand save themselves stress later and enjoy better conversations around their future together.

This needn’t be a scary affair. Light some candles, pour some of your favourite drinks and talk openly. What would you like your future to look like and how do you feel about having the money for these dreams? What is important to each of you and how do you perceive value? How do you feel about debt and how do you feel about savings?

It’s not about obsessing over money (which is highly unromantic…) – quite the opposite. It’s about speaking about what is important to you and understanding how you can now achieve these goals together. It’s about how you can be more, together (which is considerably more romantic…).

Conversations like these are gold – for both your rands and your relationship.

Discuss the benefits of potentially skipping Valentine’s Day
If you’ve already had the big talks mentioned above, try having a relaxed conversation about skimping on the Valentine’s plans to save money for other things. Now that you have a better idea of what you value together, you can work together to new and bigger goals. Or, instead of splashing out on gifts, consider just spending on creating a special memory together that will outlast any trinket.

For a Valentine’s present, give the gift of empowerment
If you do want to spoil your loved one, try thinking out of the box. One romantic gestures I’ve heard of happened to a divorced woman with three young kids. She met a man and after being together for a few months, he gave her a gift: he’d invested in a Kruger rand on behalf of each of her children with a goal to having enough money for each of their tertiary educations.

Often, we think of perishable items when we think Valentine’s Day – flowers, chocolates and the like. But what message is that really communicating? By taking out an investment on behalf of your significant other, you are saying ‘you are valuable and worth investing in’.

As a couple, do you meet with your financial advisor together? Money is one of the most common stressors in the world and can cause enormous anxiety in relationships.

This Valentine’s day, why not think long term and have a new conversation?

New Year’s resolutions for more wealth and financial health in 2019

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When 1 January rolls around, most of us are a little worse for wear: we’ve overindulged, under-exercised and are more than a little tired. It’s the same with our finances – many of our wallets take a financial overindulgence through the festive season.

Fear not – with a few simple commitments, you can get keep your finances in shape and fighting fit for 2019 in no time.

Deal with debt once and for all
Merlin famously said to Arthur in The Sword in the Stone that ‘the cure for fear or sadness is to do something’. Debt’s crippling power often comes from the shame and procrastination most people succumb to when they are in debt and, like unwashed dishes, the problem grows the longer you leave it.

True wealth cannot happen with debt in the mix, so your first resolution should be to get yourself to an expert as soon in the new year as possible. Be transparent about what you owe, what you make and how you spend. Just the act of talking about it and getting an action plan from a professional will fire you up to slay the debt dragon in 2019.

Try to invest every month
Most savvy people interested in wealth creation are already saving each month – but are you investing with the same regularity? Forbes magazine points out that most bank accounts earn less than 1 percent interest per annum, while inflation is 2 to 3 percent. That same money put into an investment can potentially earn ten times that. So how do you invest as often as every 30 days?

Luckily, this is the 21st century and, yes, there is an app for that – several in fact. Ask around with money-savvy friends to see what they use, or create a recurring calendar item in your calendar to remind you. Try something out, see if it fits and keep on trying.

Write down everything you spend – and get the family to do the same
This one is incredibly powerful. We all operate under some illusion of what we really spend money on and a wake-up call can be just the thing your January budget needs. Create a note on your phone or buy a notebook and jot down every single thing you spend money on and try to get your spouse, kids or flatmate to do the same. Just this act alone will make you spend more mindfully – which often means less.

Try a one week – or one month – cash detox
Just like the detox plans many of us go on physically, your money can also benefit from a cleanse after the splurges of the festive season. Use your handy notebook or phone note from the previous resolution and calculate what you spend in a week. Now, draw that money in cash. We can be very flippant with our finances when they are as intangible as swiping a card. With physical cash it’s easier to truly picture your wealth and how you’re stewarding it.

Easy ways to eliminate waste this festive season

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It’s a terrible misnomer, but the festive season – which is all about cheer and goodwill to all in various religions – is one of the most wasteful of the year. There are piles of present wrappings, tons of unwanted toys and lots of leftovers – but it doesn’t have to be that way. To enjoy less wasteful and more charitable festivities this year, just follow these tips:

Wrapping waste
Recycle all your wrapping paper or take it down to the local dump and try and encourage family and friends to reuse wrapping from last year. You can also look to wrapping gifts… in other gifts. T-shirts, scarves, towels and bags can all be used as innovative wrappings with rafia or ribbons; no plastics, tapes or wasteful paper needed. Remember, there’s no shame in eliminating waste!

Leftover lunch (and dinner… and snacks!)
Three words – cook, compassion or compost. There are plenty of websites for how to use leftovers the next day and beyond, from gammon sandwiches and gourmet lamb burgers to reused mince pies and end-of-the-month salticrax snacks. Alternatively, as is the Boxing Day custom, a more compassionate and charitable option is look online for a local charity collecting and giving away food. You could even ask on your local Facebook community pages and join a drive to spread festive cheer to those less-fortunate. Try searching on www.giveback.co.za or www.forgood.co.za if you’re really stuck. Finally… compost, but this only applies to vegetable leftovers. Meat scraps that are headed for the bin are probably best wrapped in foil, frozen and then donated to your local animal shelter.

Unwanted gifts
A powerful and useful practice to try as a family could be to spend a portion of your Christmas Day giving out unwanted gifts (like those from your office party…), combined with something more immediately sustaining like leftover food, to the homeless (yes this was covered earlier, but it’s Christmas – who’s counting?). Encourage the family to be honest about what isn’t their taste – it could really make someone else’s day and be a great bonding experience for you and your kin.

Four things to do if the markets crash this December

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December should be a time of rest and relaxation – but for South African investors, the month comes with ominous memories. ‘Nenegate’ and Zuma’s infamous cabinet reshuffle, the Steinhoff collapse and several other rand-slaughtering incidents occurred in the month of the year when everyone was hopefully on holiday; plus the ANC elections occur next December too.

So, what is an investor to do when the last month of the year rolls around and disaster strikes? In the words of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: don’t panic.

The first thing to do is remember the bigger picture. Many tend to look at the short term. For example, the rand recently dropped below the R14 benchmark to the dollar due to America’s elections and its divisive results, which is positive for the Rand strength. The same person looking at this news is likely to panic if, say, President Trump signs an important new trade agreement and the dollar strengthens or geopolitical risk in South Africa causes the rand to falter.

This will cause anxiety and is also an inaccurate way to view the market. Markets do not work off individual events, but rather longer cycles of bull (growth) and bear (decline) periods. Globally, we are coming out of a very long period of bullish growth. Since 1 January 2009, after the 2008 global financial crisis, the MSCI World Index has come up 292 percent, according to Sygnia Asset Management. This means we are in for a long bear period that has little to do with fluctuations caused by what President Ramaphosa says in his next speech.

The second thing to do is breathe and to remind yourself that all things work in cycles, including the market. We have just come out of a period of high growth globally, but all good things come to an end. So do all bad things. If we are entering a bear market now, that will surely give way to a bull market in due course. It’s also comforting to note that, as Sygnia Asset Management points out, bear markets have historically been shorter than bull markets.

The third thing to do is remind yourself that every season has its usefulness. Many investors focus on the selling aspect of investing that can be such a rush and godsend in the sunny outlook of a bull period. However, a bear market is often when the best opportunities are found at the most reasonable prices. Avoid the temptation to sell out of an emotional place of anxiety when slow growth sets in, and you’ll reap the rewards from all those others surrounding you who sold when the price was low. If you aren’t panicking, you don’t need to make that mistake.

Lastly, give it time. Your portfolio wasn’t built in a day and, if you act rationally, it won’t topple in one day either. All downturns work themselves out and the good investors play the waiting game while they do. It’s all about time in the markets, not timing the markets.

Your Christmas wish list for increasing productivity in 2019

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It’s that time of year again, when loved ones begin asking: ‘what do you want for Christmas?’

Your PA is also going to look at you with expectant eyes in terms of what gifts to order for clients, seniors in the company and such. Answering ‘nothing’ is not going to get you very far with either and, so, we’ve compiled a list of the coolest gift ideas that’ll equip and excite for work in 2019 before it’s even begun.

A VR headset
Virtual reality is the future, as we know, and this gift gets serious kudos for being both productivity-enhancing and escapist at the same time. A good headset will cost a few hundred bucks, but it’s so worth it. Any decent model is compatible with most smartphones and you can download content easily from the Apple or Google app stores. The newest VR headsets also have things like adjustable lenses, a soft eye cushion and augmented gaming function to keep you having fun for hours.

A Moleskine Evernote Smart Notebook
The brightest people are ideas people, likely to get hit with a moment of inspiration in the most unlikely places. You need some way to get those thoughts down before they evaporate, and everyone who’s anyone has at least one Moleskin, and now you can up your gift-giving game by presenting clients with an Evernote smart notebook. These Moleskins allow you to write on paper but still have digital backups of your scribbles by simply taking a photo.

A magnetic cellphone holder
For something smaller but still unique, why not try a magnetic mobile device holder? Only costing a couple of hundred bucks, it looks seriously cool seeing your phone stand up by itself on your desk and, at the same time, is useful in that it doesn’t contribute to that inevitable office clutter. The force is strong with this one…

A subscription to Audible.com
Thought leaders are notoriously voracious readers, while at the same time being too busy for anything as sedentary as reading a book. If you want to up your thought leadership status – or help someone else do the same – an Audible subscription is a great way to stimulate your mind with all the latest great reads while stuck in traffic.

Books to read on the beach that’ll inspire you for 2019

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A change is as good as a holiday, and a holiday is a good place to start a positive change. For those lucky enough to be going away at the end of this year, we’ve rounded up some of the books the world’s brightest sparks are raving about to get you feeling excited about 2019 while still on your sun lounger.

Anything you want: 40 lessons for a new kind of entrepreneur
This short book is jam-packed with horizon-expanding ideas and out-of-the-box thinking written in a simple way that’s not overwhelming. You’ll find yourself pumped up instead of daunted. It’s an enormous bestseller for a reason, and light enough on both your suitcase and your overtaxed mind.

The Happiness Project
A great pick-me-up but still a non-fiction book in which you’ll learn something, The Happiness Project is a sunny, upbeat book full of practical ideas on how to be more happy while living your best life. Author Gretchen Rubin speaks on practical things like how to fight in an emotionally healthy way, organising cupboards and singing even when you don’t feel like it in a non-preachy way that’ll put a smile on your dial.

The Motivation Myth: How High Achievers Really Set Themselves Up to Win
Sometimes we pummel ourselves to work harder, when productivity isn’t really the problem. If you like peering into the cogs of how things work psychologically, this one is for you. Ghostwriter, speaker, LinkedIn Influencer and author, Jeff Haden says you can make yourself more motivated in simple ways, no need to beat yourself up.

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less
If 2018 has left you feeling a little overwhelmed, this wonderful book is different to many productivity manuals: it’s not about cramming more into your day but discovering what truly matters in terms of productivity and doing that excellently.

However you plan to spend your downtime this season, remember these words from Confucious; “No matter how busy you may think you are you must find time for reading, or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance.”

Is now the time to buy or rent?

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Various factors, such as employment prospects, family situations, lifestyle choices and investment goals, come in to making the decision about whether to buy or rent a home.

In any market, there are different reasons for why you may choose to do one or the other, as there are good arguments for both renting and buying that depend on individual circumstances. Here is a brief overview of the options in today’s climate.

To Buy

In South Africa, there is generally a culture of preferring to own a home, as purchasing a property is widely considered to be a sound medium- to long-term investment decision. Furthermore, buying a property allows you to enjoy lifestyle benefits, such as decorating to your tastes, owning a pet, and generally doing as you please.

That said, South Africa is currently experiencing a stagnating property market in which the annual growth in house prices is slowing. Taking inflation into account, it would seem that the growth of property prices is actually in decline.

These days, people are understandably becoming more cautious when it comes to buying property. However, although the residential property market is correcting itself — most notably in the Western Cape where property prices had previously increased by 650% in certain areas in the past 15 years — some property managers believe that it is still best to buy, and to get a foot on the property ladder as soon as possible.

Interestingly, the Western Cape is still the top performing regional market, and had a 10.6% price increase from January to June 2018, while the national average was only 4.25%. Furthermore, the slowing of price appreciation in some of the hotspots has had the effect of boosting the market in other parts of the city.

It is important to gather as much information as possible on which to base your decisions, especially when it comes to investment properties, as margins have become much slimmer. However, if finances are tight, a potential option is to rent a house for you and family to live in, while investing in a more affordable apartment, which you should then be able to rent out at approximately 0.5% of the purchase price. This way, you can get a foot into the market, while enjoying a monthly income stream and long-term capital growth on your investment.

It is also possible to create further wealth by upgrading or refurbishing your property, then selling it and buying a more expensive property. However, it’s important to decide carefully what you spend on your home, as you need to consider what will add value for a potential buyer. It’s worth seeking advice from experts if you are unsure. Also bear in mind that, according to Dr Andrew Golding, CE of the Pam Golding Property group, “the old saying that it is better to purchase the cheapest house in an expensive suburb, than the most expensive property in a lesser area, remains true.”

It is also important to take into account the upfront costs involved when purchasing a property, such as the deposit, transfer duty, legal costs, homeowner’s insurance, bank charges and municipal rates. Not to mention the maintenance costs and any levvies that you may need to pay once you are a homeowner. You should also be aware that if you have a bond, the interest rate can fluctuate too.

To rent

An increasing number of people simply don’t have the means to buy a property, and the rental market has benefitted from a generation that is financially not yet able to purchase their first home. Renting can be especially attractive as it does not come with additional expenses, such as rates, taxes and maintenance, which fall on an owner.

However, there are other reasons for why you may choose to rent rather than buy, which are not related to affordability. For example, many people want the flexibility and ease of mobility that renting provides.

Renting can also be a good option if you are returning to South Africa, but are still unsure of where you are going to work or what your future plans involve. Furthermore, renting gives potential buyers a ‘recce’ opportunity so that they can first get a feel for an area, its security, and its access to local amenities, frequented places and transport links.

Renting also buys you the time to do a thorough property search so that you can eventually purchase a suitable home at an attractive price, without having the pressure of needing to urgently find somewhere to live. It will also give you time to analyse potential growth opportunities of different properties and locations.

If you do wish to rent, it’s important to ensure that you have a written lease that covers payment, duration, and all the landlord’s and the tenant’s obligations. Before you sign anything, be sure that you are happy with all negotiations, and that all agreements are clearly stated in the lease. Be aware that a rental contract will often be fixed for at least six months or a year, so be sure to stipulate if you require anything different.

If you keep the property in good condition and honour all your obligations in a timeous manner, you should have no issues in renewing a contract or being reimbursed your deposit. However, the downside to renting is that losing your deposit is always a risk, monthly rental can be expensive, and you will need to ask permission to make any changes to the property.

Whatever you decide, it’s important to do proper research on an area and a property before committing to renting or buying. And it’s also advisable not to over-extend yourself when making a decision — be aware that the rental costs are likely to increase each year; as will levvies, insurance and rates if you purchase a property. Don’t hesitate to arrange a meeting to discuss whether buying or renting a home would be best for your financial situation right now.
Information for this blog was sourced through Fin24.co.za.