101 words on financial wellness

Most people think financial wellness means having lots of money. Incorrect.Peace

Financial wellness means having your personal finances in order and the sensibility to have a financial plan. It means knowing where your money comes from, and where it goes.

It means having, or building a well-nourished savings account, and a balanced investment account. And a practical plan to pay off debt, or ideally not have any.

It means having the financial resources to be able to take care of all of your family’s needs, and some/ most of their wants. And most importantly, being able to sleep peacefully at night.

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101 words on visiting home for the holidays

HolidaysIt’s been almost a year since I last visited. Not a very long time, but long enough.

Almost a year since I’ve been able to spend quality time with the family. Almost a year since we sat down together at the dinner table. Since I’ve been able to hug my parents. Since I’ve just hung out with my brother. Since I’ve grabbed a cold beer with childhood friends. Since I’ve been able to stretch out and fall asleep on the couch watching TV without a worry in the world.

Here’s to looking forward to the warmth of home during the holidays!

Employees vs. Entrepreneurs

 

I’m sure you, at some point, have had the occasional whim to just up and quit your job. To become an entrepreneur and start something new. To have what you do make some sort of impact on the world. Heck, who hasn’t?Stick it to the man

Based on current research, close to 48% of Americans want to be entrepreneurs. I mean who wouldn’t? You hear about the benefits all the time: flexible work hours, get to be your own boss, unlimited vacation time, (potentially) more money, a chance to stick it to the man…the list goes on and on.

However, I’d like to dedicate this article to playing the devil’s advocate and supporting the other side. I’m going to shine the spotlight on the rarely discussed topic of why working for someone can be more beneficial. Again, this varies on a case by case basis, but most things I touch upon in this post are focused towards the general white collar, and some parts of the blue collar population.

Vacations/sick days

Whether you’re going on vacation, or simply unwell, working for someone gives you peace of mind from Paid Leaveknowing that your company won’t likely cease to function. In fact, it gets better- you don’t have to choose between making money and taking a few days off. Paid leave lets you do both!

Even if you don’t have paid leave, you can still take unpaid leave without having to worry about the company shutting its doors. Being forced to choose between attending your kid’s graduation and keeping your company afloat is not a decision you’ll have to make often as an employee.

Predictable cash flows

Depending on your source, you will find that 8-9 out of every 10 starts ups fail. That is after burning through a ton of money for a couple of years. It’s not too hard to deduce from such statistics that working for a startup generally implies little to no initial remuneration, followed by:
-the high probability of eventually finding yourself either with a failed enterprise/ bankruptcy on your hands, or
-the low probability of not-so-great remuneration, or
-a very very very low probability of making it big and receiving sky high remuneration.

On the other hand, working for someone gives you certainty and stability. When you sign up, you know howFailing to plan much you’re going to be paid. At times, you can even negotiate for more. You know exactly how much money you will receive in your bank account. This allows you to develop some sort of plan for your personal finances. Never underestimate the importance of planning- failing to plan, is planning to fail.

It also means cash flow stability. Meaning, you know with certainty that said known quantity of money is going to hit your bank account on a certain date, month after month. This allows you to develop your personal finances and plan into the future. It also gives you peace of mind, and allows you to live your life without the constant worry of where you next paycheck is going to come from.

For the haters out there, yes I know there always exists a small chance of your employer going bankrupt, or you being let go off, but compared to a startup I’d say that probability is infinitesimal.

Office perks

Working for an employer comes with its perks. Depending on the employer, these can be lavish benefits like top of the line recruitment packages, free meals and an office vehicle, or more modest perks like tickets to exclusive events, occasional office lunches, and Christmas dinners. Generally, most employers’ perks will fall somewhere in between.

Whatever they may be, they are more than the perks you will probably receive as a young, budding entrepreneur.

Benefits

Apart from the stability of cash flows addressed earlier, employers also offer health care coverage or some sort of subsidized group health insurance program that you can’t access directly. Some even offer stock options, performance based remuneration, etc. Directly, or indirectly, every one of these translates into more money in your pocket. Benefits that most real startups can’t offer.

In fact, benefits are fairly important to most employees. Some quick desktop research shows that health benefits are amongst the most highly valued benefits by employees.

Collegial atmosphere

Personally, I like entering/exiting the office and walking the corridor to my desk greeting or being greeted by High 5everyone with a cheerful Buenos Dias/Hasta Mañana! I like grabbing the occasional lunch or beer with coworkers and chatting about work, or about where they are headed for their summer vacations. I hate to admit it, but I even occasionally enjoy partaking in a bit of office gossip.

All these are things that bring you closer to your fellow workers, and allow you to develop camaraderie and build personal & meaningful relationships. Also, these are all things that you can’t do if you go it alone and be an entrepreneur.  

Role that you want

Another benefit of working for someone is that you can choose the role you want to play. You can apply for the kind of position you want. If you like to travel and meet people, you can find a role that lets you do that, and likewise if you’re an introvert or a desk junkie.

If you don’t like what you’re doing, you always have the option to either negotiate a promotion/change in position to move towards what you want to focus on, or simply quit the company and search for what you want elsewhere.

On the contrary, as an entrepreneur you are all in and stuck with what you started. Your only “out” is shutting down the company. Additionally, as an entrepreneur you have to focus on everything, and not just the aspects of the business that interest you, which brings me to my final point…

Don’t have to sweat the small stuff

Working for someone gives you the benefit of not having to sweat the small stuff. I’m referring to things at a basic level, things related to infrastructure like daily office space, office consumables, electricity, internet, registrations, etc. are not things you need to deal with. As an entrepreneur, in addition to trying to launch your business, you have to waste your time juggling all these mundane issues.

Those are just the basics- then there are more complicated issues. Your employer, for example, deducts your payroll taxes for you. Your employer also pays a large part of your social security taxes. As an entrepreneur, you’d have to file quarterly tax estimates, and pay taxes for your employees’ social security benefits. Both of which are expensive and time consuming activities. Just to give you a sense of the numbers, on average in Spain 38% of the value of your gross paycheck needs to be paid every month towards social security. The employee shoulders 6.4% of this burden. The employer pays 31.6% over and above what they pay you in salary.

Coming away from reading this post, you might have the impression that I am a company man and anti-entrepreneurship. Well, I am not. In spite of my rant about why entrepreneurship sucks, I am not against it. WeekendNot even close. I just wanted to take the opportunity to support the rarely discussed other side of the discussion and bring it to the debate table.

Entrepreneurship is not a bad thing. To be an entrepreneur takes courage. Not everyone can leave the safety and stability of a well-paying job. It takes foresight and the ability to manage a thousand things small and big, all at once. Without entrepreneurs who risked everything, there’d be no companies that have changed the world like Apple or Microsoft. Heck, there’d be no one to employ the non-entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurs and non-entrepreneurs depend on each other and share a well-balanced mutually beneficial relationship. At the end of the day, each person has to evaluate their own life situation and risk appetite, and decide for themselves which path suits them better.

Comparison

Happy Diwali 2015!

 

Today, we celebrate Diwali– one of the brightest and best known festivals in India. Today’s blog post serves to put together my experiences and knowledge of this festival, its significance, and how it is celebrated.

The festival of Diwali, also called the festival of lights, represents the triumph of good over evil and is celebrated by Hindus the world over. For those that are unaware, there are a plethora of deities in Hinduism, deities associated with various events, festivals, emotions and objects.  However, I should clarify that although there exist a large number of deities in Hinduism, the belief is in one supreme God with various incarnations. To be honest, I am unsure of the actual number, but a quick Google search brings up various articles that estimate that number to be in the hundreds of millions.

DiyasDepending on your beliefs (they vary by region, religion, etc.), it is the day Lord Ram returned from 14 years of exile, after slaying the evil Ravan, with his wife Sita and brother Lakshman. It is said people lit diyas (earthen lamps) to help light the way for Lord Ram to come home. The diya is now synonymous with Diwali, and is still common tradition, with most households lighting at least one diya. In addition, it is also believed that lighting a diya on Diwali welcomes Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth into the home.

It is a happy time, when families come together to perform traditional pujas together to thank the Gods. Since this day also marks the New Year in the Hindu calendar, families pray for prosperity.  The puja normally consists of lighting incense and diyas and making offerings of food and wealth to the Gods to thank them for their blessings.

This is traditionally followed by the younger members of the family seeking the blessings of their elders, and the family exchanging gifts. Then comes my favorite part- the food. The Diwali family dinner is a traditional event, which entails preparation of traditional Indian cuisine served on new or special silverware. Among other things, the meal centers around succulent potatoes and green peas cooked in mouth-watering vegetable gravy, served with raita (a concoction of yogurt mixed with some spices, and finely chopped tomato, onion and cucumber). This is accompanied by puri, a kind of thin bread that is fried and inflates into a ball.

Rangoli 2After the traditional dinner, families tend to visit close friends and relatives to convey their regards and best wishes. This also provides an opportunity to enjoy the rangolis, traditional patterns made out of colored powder. These beautiful patterns take hard work and patience to create, but result in a beautiful final product. I have fond memories as a child, of my brother and I helping our mother create hers, or sometimes even creating our own little rangoli for our family and friends to admire.

Apart from the warmth, great food, beautiful lights and decorations, Diwali brings an additional charm for kids- firecrackers. Children partake in lighting all sorts of fireworks, big and small, loud and louder, and enjoying the beautiful images and formations they create. While great for kids, this aspect of Diwali is not something everyone agrees on. I remember my brother and I swearing off fireworks close to when I was 12 or 13 years old, after we learned about their harmful effects.

These firecrackers are NOISY and go on late into the night. They prevent people from being able to hear themselves think, let alone sleep. I won’t even go into the harmful impact they have on pets. They increase pollution levels significantly, releasing insane amounts of poisonous and toxic substances into the atmosphere, which we then breathe. They are responsible for a number of respiratory illnesses and result in burns and injuries during this happy time of the year. Not to mention the child laborers and the horrendous conditions in which they work to manufacture these fireworks for other children.

Fortunately, there seems to be hope. Awareness seems to be increasing. Government and private organizations are running campaigns. And the results are already evident. The papers are reporting fewer children bursting firecrackers, and industry groups are reporting sales decreases of up to 30% this year. Good news for all. 🙂

Anyway, as for us, we plan to celebrate this Diwali. Maybe not with the same intensity that we used to back home, but we certainly won’t let it pass without event.  Honey Bee has chosen to decorate the house with special lights. Later in the evening, we plan on performing a tiny puja at home, and lighting some candles, followed by a dinner out at a nice Indian restaurant with friends.

And no matter where you are, let me take this opportunity to wish you and your family a very Happy Diwali, and a prosperous new year!

Tasty Indulgences!

 

Around the world, the onset of winter means one thing that everyone looks forward to- delicious food. Whether it’s Thanksgiving in the States, or Diwali in India, or All Saints’ Day in Europe.

panelletes TradititionalLast weekend we joined some friends, and their family and friends, to celebrate All Saints’ Day (El Día de Todos los Santos). In Catalonia, this day (or weekend) is celebrated by roasting chestnuts (castañas) over an open fire, and munching down on a super heavy dinner with family.

Our friend’s family happens to own a massive farmhouse in a remote town. We were fashionably late, and on reaching were greeted with freshly roasted chestnuts out of the fire in the old stone fireplace. They were Castañaswrapped in a soft blanket in a wicker basket. After circulating around the room and greeting everyone, we took our place at the dinner table with 20 other people.

First up, the wine. We popped open a couple of 35-year-old magnum bottles of red. These too were in-house. In the basement two stories underneath, which we visited, is a massive wine cellar cooled by nature, and covered in cobwebs. The collection includes wines that are almost a century old.

The main course included a very very wide variety of famous Iberian ham (Jamón ibérico). Good Jamón takes a long time to make, going through various steps including curing which can take anything between 12 and 48 months for the higher quality varieties. This was accompanied by an array of cheeses (quesos), and bread with tomato (pan con tomate). They taste best when combined and eaten together, like an open sandwich.

Desert included at least 15 different types of panellets, a traditional Catalan dessert made with chestnuts and sweet potatoes. These included varieties loaded with rich and creamy Panellets Fancychocolate, coconut, syrups, and many more. As an additional surprise a new bottle of wine started doing the rounds. This sweet wine (vino dulce) made for an indulgent and sinful combination when eaten with the panellets. I have eaten, and drunk a lot of different types and foods and beverages, but I can say that without any doubt, this was a completely new flavor to my tongue. We just couldn’t get enough of it! Unfortunately, being the one who had to drive us home, I had to control my indulgence.

In any case, suffice it to say we ate, and consequently slept very well that night. Thank heavens the next day was a holiday!

Now, we’re looking forward to our next excuse for enjoying even more delicious treats.

Lunch at 4000 feet @ Montserrat

Montserrat

Montserrat is a monastery built high up in the mountains. Apart from the monastery, the mountain itself warrants a trip. With jagged peaks, much like the serrations of a knife, the mountain makes for an impressive backdrop to any outing. In fact, the name derives from the Catalan words for serrated mountain. You can visit by taking a funicular (la cremallera-literally translates to zipper), or a cable car (el teleférico), or drive, or hike. We chose to hike.

Once we reached the monastery, we parked and set off on our hike. Given that we are in the fall season, the beauty of the hike was enhanced by the varying colors of the leaves along our route. Beautiful yellows, bright reds, light pinks and fading oranges and greens adorned the trees and covered our path.

We chose to take the steep hike upward towards the peak, which we have visited on previous occasions by funicular. We could have instead taken the gradual ascent which might have been less demanding but would have taken much longer than we had. All in all, we hiked closed to 15 kilometers. However, don’t be deceived by the short distance, because most of the hike upwards was a very very steep ascent.

Close to 2 hours in, we reached the peak we had set out for. Satisfied with our ascent, we laid out our picnic of sandwiches and filled our hungry stomachs with the Honey Bee’s delicious concoctions. All this, while taking in the unbeatable views at close to 4,000 feet above sea level.

The hike back down was relatively quicker. Given the steep angle of descent, you couldn’t help but break into a light jog every so often. We reached the parking area, tired and exhausted, and just in time as dusk began to set in. The air started to get cooler, the sky started to darken, the parking lot started to empty, and we set off towards home to prepare to join some friends in a guilt-free celebration of the feast of All Saints Day (Día de Todos los Santos) in Spanish and Catalan tradition…

PS: More on this festival in the next blog post. However, I will tell you that it was a rich feast consisting of delectable food and mouth tingling drinks that we celebrated in the setting of an old grand farmhouse.